Climate Driver Update
Climate drivers in the Pacific, Indian and Southern oceans and the Tropics
Sea surface temperature maps
Sea surface temperature maps are not available for forecasts before Spring 2018
SST outlooks for the next 3 months
ENSO is the oscillation between El Niño and La Niña states in the Pacific region. El Niños typically produce drier seasons, and La Niñas drive wetter years, but the influence of each event varies, particularly in conjunction with other climate influences.
International climate model outlooks
The graphs are based on the ensemble mean for the most recent model run.
These graphs show the average forecast value of NINO3.4 for each international model surveyed for the selected calendar month. If the bars on the graph are approaching or exceeding the blue dashed line, there is an increased risk of La Niña. Similarly, if the bars on the graph are approaching or exceeding the red dashed line, there is an increased chance of El Niño.
Weekly sea surface temperatures
Graphs of the table values
Monthly sea surface temperatures
Graphs of the table values
5-day sub-surface temperatures
- See also: Links open in new window
- Animation of recent sub-surface temperature changes
- Archive of sub-surface temperature charts
Southern Oscillation Index
- Data Source: Links open in new window
- TAO/TRITON data
Cloudiness near the Date Line
About El Niño and La Niña (ENSO)
ENSO is the oscillation between El Niño and La Niña conditions.
The term El Niño refers to the extensive warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean which leads to a major shift in weather patterns across the Pacific. This occurs every three to eight years and is associated with a weaker Walker Circulation (see diagram below) and drier conditions in eastern Australia. El Niño Southern Oscillation(ENSO) is the term used to describe the oscillation between the El Niño phase and the La Niña, or opposite, phase.
In the eastern Pacific, the northward flowing Humbolt current brings cooler water from the Southern Ocean to the tropics. Furthermore, along the equator, strong east to southeasterly Trade winds cause the ocean currents in the eastern Pacific to draw water from the deeper ocean towards the surface, helping to keep the surface cool. However in the far western Pacific there is no cool current, and weaker Trades mean that this "upwelling" effect is reduced. Hence waters in the western equatorial Pacific are able to warm more effectively under the influence of the tropical sun. This means that under "normal" conditions the western tropical Pacific is 8 to 10°C warmer than the eastern tropical Pacific. While the ocean surface north and northeast of Australia is typically 28 to 30°C or warmer, near South America the Pacific Ocean is close to 20°C. This warmer area of ocean is a source for convection and is associated with cloudiness and rainfall.
However, during El Niño years, the trade winds weaken and the central and eastern tropical Pacific warms up. This change in ocean temperature sees a shift in cloudiness and rainfall from the western to the central tropical Pacific Ocean.
The Southern Oscillation Index, or SOI, gives an indication of the development and intensity of El Niño or La Niña events in the Pacific Ocean. The SOI is calculated using the pressure differences between Tahiti and Darwin. The following figure demonstrates the typical fluctuations in SOI over a period of 11 years. Positive SOI values are shown in blue, with negative in orange. Sustained positive values are indicative of La Niña conditions, and sustained negative values indicative of El Niño conditions.
This graph shows the values of the SOI between 1991 and mid-2015. Monthly SOI data.
Each phase of the ENSO has a very different effect on the Australian climate. Events generally have an autumn to autumn pattern of evolution and decay. That is, they typically begin to develop during autumn, strengthen in winter/spring, then decay during summer and autumn of the following year. These effects are described in further detail on the following pages: El Niño and La Niña.
The following links provide further information regarding the El Niño Southern Oscillation and its impact on the Australian Climate.
El Niño, La Niña and Australia's Climate (pdf) provides further detail on ENSO and its impact on Australia.
The Latest Climate Driver Update provides the latest information on the state of ENSO and the likely effect this will have on Australia.
Australian Rainfall Patterns during El Niño and La Niña Events gives further case studies for the Australian region.
- Past La Niña events
- Past El Niño events
- Rainfall during El Niño
- Rainfall during La Niña
- 2010–11 and 2011–12 La Niña events
Timeline of monthly Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values since 1876
The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is defined by the difference in sea surface temperatures between the eastern and western tropical Indian Ocean. A negative phase typically sees above average winter-spring rainfall in Australia, while a positive phase brings drier than average seasons.
International climate model outlooks
The graphs are based on the ensemble mean for the most recent model run.
Thse graphs show the average forecast value of the IOD index for each international model surveyed for the selected calendar month. If the majority of models are approaching or exceeding the blue dashed line, then there is an increased risk of a negative IOD event. If the majority of models are approaching or exceeding the red dashed line, then there is an increased risk of a positive IOD event.
About the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)
Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures impact rainfall and temperature patterns over Australia. Warmer than average sea surface temperatures can provide more moisture for frontal systems and lows crossing Australia.
Indian Ocean Dipole
Sustained changes in the difference between sea surface temperatures of the tropical western and eastern Indian Ocean are known as the Indian Ocean Dipole or IOD. The IOD is one of the key drivers of Australia's climate and can have a significant impact on agriculture. This is because events generally coincide with the winter crop growing season. The IOD has three phases: neutral, positive and negative. Events usually start around May or June, peak between August and October and then rapidly decay when the monsoon arrives in the southern hemisphere around the end of spring.
Indian Ocean Dipole years
The Southern Annular Mode, or SAM, refers to the north-south shift of rain-bearing westerly winds and weather systems in the Southern Ocean compared to the usual position.
Southern Annular Mode (SAM) history
About the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) outlook
The Southern Annular Mode can result in enhanced rainfall in regions of southern Australia.
The Southern Annular Mode, or SAM, also known as the Antarctic Oscillation (AAO), is a mode of variability which can affect rainfall in southern Australia. The SAM refers to the north/south movement of the strong westerly winds that dominate the middle to higher latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere. The belt of strong westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere is also associated with the storm systems and cold fronts that move from west to east.
During the summer and autumn months (December through to May) the SAM is showing an increasing tendency to remain in a positive phase, with westerly winds contracted towards the south pole.
The contribution that the SAM makes to the climate variability in Australia and the apparent positive trend in the SAM are relatively recent discoveries and as such are still active areas of research.
The diagram above shows the area affected by the Southern Annular Mode, when it occurs and how long it may last.
In terms of mean sea level pressure, the SAM affects the coastal regions of southern Australia throughout the year. Extreme negative phases of the SAM can cause increased rainfall and cold air outbreaks in southern Australia.
Each SAM event, both positive and negative, tends to last for around ten days to two weeks. The time frame between positive and negative events however is quite random, but is typically in the range of a week to a few months.
The impact that the SAM has on rainfall varies greatly depending on season and region. If Australia were a few degrees further south, then the impact of changes in SAM would be much more pronounced. The diagram below describes the average impact on rainfall during a "positive" (westerly winds further south) SAM event.
The SAM also has an impact on temperatures. In general, in areas where rainfall is increased, temperature is decreased whilst where rainfall is decreased, temperature is increased.
The diagram above shows the impact that a "positive" SAM event (decreased westerly winds) has on Australian rainfall. Shading indicates daily rainfall anomaly in mm/day for each of the seasons. (Source: Hendon et al. 2007)
During July 2007, the SAM was in a strong negative phase. This was reflected in rainfall patterns across southern Australia.
- Have a look at the latest atmospheric circulation patterns.
- Current values of the Antarctic Oscillation Index (an index related to the strength and phase of the SAM) are available from the US National Weather Service (NOAA)
- The relationship between the SAM and Australian rainfall is discussed in detail in this research paper.
The Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) is the major fluctuation in tropical weather on weekly to monthly timescales. It can be characterised as an eastward moving 'pulse' of cloud and rainfall near the equator that typically recurs every 30 to 60 days.
Weekly tropical climate note
MJO phase diagram
*Note: There are missing satellite observations from 16/3/1978 to 31/12/1978.
The MJO phase diagram illustrates the progression of the MJO through different phases, which generally coincide with locations along the equator around the globe. RMM1 and RMM2 are mathematical methods that combine cloud amount and winds at upper and lower levels of the atmosphere to provide a measure of the strength and location of the MJO. When the index is within the centre circle the MJO is considered weak, meaning it is difficult to discern using the RMM methods. Outside of this circle the index is stronger and will usually move in an anti-clockwise direction as the MJO moves from west to east. For convenience, we define 8 different MJO phases in this diagram.
Daily averaged OLR anomalies
Westerly wind anomalies
Time-longitude plots of daily averaged OLR anomalies (left) and 850 hPa (approximately 1.5 km above sea level) westerly wind anomalies (right) are useful for indicating the movement of the MJO.
How to read the Time-Longitude plots
The vertical axis represents time with the most distant past on the top and becoming more recent as you move down the chart. The Horizontal axis represents longitude.
Eastward movement of a strong MJO event would be seen as a diagonal line of violet (downward from left to right) in the OLR diagram, and a corresponding diagonal line of purple in the wind diagram. These diagonal lines would most likely fall between 60°E and 150°E and they would be repeated nearly every 1 to 2 months.
About the Madden–Julian Oscillian (MJO) outlook
The Madden-Julian Oscillation is associated with weekly to monthly periods of enhanced and suppressed rainfall over parts of Australia.
The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) is a global-scale feature of the tropical atmosphere.
The MJO is the major fluctuation in tropical weather on weekly to monthly timescales. The MJO can be characterized as an eastward moving "pulse" of cloud and rainfall near the equator that typically recurs every 30 to 60 days. However, the signal of the MJO in the tropical atmosphere is not always present.
MJO effects are most evident over the Indian Ocean and western equatorial Pacific. It influences the timing, development and strength of the major global monsoon patterns, including the Indian and Australian monsoons.
Tropical cyclones are also more likely to develop in association with certain phases of a strong MJO event.
The MJO is associated with variations in wind, cloudiness, and rainfall. Most tropical rainfall comes from tall thunderstorms which have very cold tops. Thunderstorms that have cold tops emit only low levels of longwave radiation. Therefore, the MJO can be monitored by using satellite measurements of outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) to identify areas of cloudiness (low OLR) within the tropics.
The diagram above shows the area most affected by the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), the seasons during which the MJO's influence on Australia is greatest, and for how long each active phase of the MJO typically lasts.
The MJO has its greatest effect on the tropical areas of Australia during summer. It may have some effect on parts of southern Australia, however this impact appears small when compared to the effect on northern regions, and remains the subject of research.
The MJO can have an effect on the timing and intensity of "active" monsoon periods in northern Australia. This can lead to enhanced rainfall - in both the intensity of the rainfall and the duration of the rainfall.
During late January 2006, an active phase of the MJO coincided with an active monsoon period, resulting in enhanced rainfall over northern Australia.
The following links provide further information on the MJO.
- The Weekly Tropical Climate Note provides information on the current phase of the MJO.
- Technical information and maps relating to the Real-time Multivariate MJO Index, which is a way of monitoring the climate and weather variations caused by the MJO. Please note that this product is a research product, and as such is not always updated and may be under-going continual changes as it is developed.
The SST map for December shows below average SSTs extending along the equator in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, extending into the tropics south of the equator in the east of the basin. The strength of these anomalies has decreased slightly along the equator in the central and eastern parts of the basin compared to November though their extent has increased to be further west.
The strength of warmer than average SST anomalies in the Tasman Sea has decreased during December but warm anomalies to the northwest of Australia and along parts of the east coast have intensified.
The December values of the three key NINO indices were: NINO3 −0.5 °C, NINO3.4 −0.8 °C, and NINO4 −0.7 °C.
The sea surface temperature (SST) map for the tropical Pacific Ocean for the week ending 17 January shows cool anomalies around the equator extending west of 155°E to south of the equator in the eastern Pacific. Warm anomalies remain around the Maritime Continent and in the waters close to much of northern and southeast Australia.
The latest values of the three NINO indices in the tropical Pacific for the week ending 17 January were: NINO3 −0.5 °C, NINO3.4 −0.9 °C, NINO4 −1.0 °C. NINO3 has warmed slightly while NINO3.4 and NINO4 have cooled compared to two weeks ago.
Persistent NINO3 or NINO3.4 values warmer than +0.8 °C are typical of El Niño, while persistent values cooler than −0.8 °C typically indicate La Niña.
The 30-day Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) for the 30 days ending 17 January was +19.5. The 90-day SOI value was +14.0.
Sustained negative values of the SOI below −7 typically indicate El Niño while sustained positive values above +7 typically indicate La Niña. Values between +7 and −7 generally indicate neutral conditions.
Trade winds for the 5 days ending 17 January were stronger than average over the central and western tropical Pacific. Trade wind strength is stronger compared to two weeks ago.
During El Niño there is a sustained weakening, or even reversal, of the trade winds across much of the tropical Pacific. Conversely, during La Niña, there is a sustained strengthening of the trade winds.
The Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) is located over the Maritime Continent. It is moderate in strength with some models indicating a weakening in strength and rapid movement into the western Pacific Ocean in the coming week. Along with other tropical wave activity, the MJO is expected to maintain conditions favourable for above-average rainfall and tropical low formation in the Australian region over the coming fortnight.
Sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean are warmer than average close to the Australian coast and south of 35 °S. Compared to two weeks ago, these anomalies have strengthened slightly. There is a region of cooler than average temperatures around 30 °S. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is neutral. The latest weekly value of the IOD index to 17 January was −0.4 °C.
Five of the six surveyed climate models expect the IOD to remain neutral through summer. IOD events are typically unable to form between December and April as the monsoon trough shifts south over the tropical Indian Ocean.
Cloudiness near the Date Line has generally been below average since early to mid-March 2020. During the past fortnight, the anomaly has been more consistent and stronger.
Equatorial cloudiness near the Date Line typically increases during El Niño (negative OLR anomalies) and decreases during La Niña (positive OLR anomalies).
The four-month sequence of equatorial Pacific sub-surface temperature anomalies shows cooler than average water extending across the top 200 m of the sub-surface of the equatorial Pacific from around the Date Line and eastward across the basin. The strength and extent of cooler than average water has remained fairly consistent since September with a slight weakening in November.
Warm anomalies persist across large parts of the column depth west of the Date Line, decreasing in depth towards the west of the basin. These warm anomalies have strengthened slightly in December.
For the five days ending 17 January, sub-surface temperatures were above average in the western equatorial Pacific, reaching more than 2 °C above average west of 170° E between a depth of 100–200 m. These warm anomalies cover a smaller volume than they did two weeks ago. In the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, cool anomalies (up to around 2 °C below average) persist at a depth of 50–150 m.
The 2020–21 La Niña is likely to have reached its peak with respect to sea surface temperature patterns in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. However, impacts associated with La Niña, such as above average rainfall in eastern and northern Australia, are expected to persist into early autumn, with climate outlooks indicating above-average rainfall is likely across much of the country, particularly in eastern Queensland.
Over the past fortnight the sea surface temperatures across the western and central Pacific Ocean have cooled slightly while those in the eastern side of the basin have warmed. The Southern Oscillation Index continues to remain high with a well above the La Niña threshold of +7. Model outlooks indicate a return to neutral conditions during the late southern summer or early autumn.
The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) has decreased towards neutral values and is expected to be neutral for the next fortnight. A strongly positive SAM over the last month was driven by an exceptionally strong polar vortex over Antarctica which has largely subsided now.
The Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) is located over the Maritime Continent and moderate in strength. Some models indicate it will weaken in the coming week before strengthening again in the western Pacific Ocean. Along with other tropical wave activity, the MJO can be expected to maintain above-average rainfall and tropical cyclone activity in the Australian region over the coming fortnight.
Climate change is also influencing the Australian climate. Australia's climate has warmed by 1.44 ± 0.24 °C over the period 1910–2019, while recent decades have seen increased rainfall across northern Australia during the northern wet season (October–April), with more high-intensity, short-duration rainfall events.
The Southern Annual Mode (SAM) is neutral and is expected to remain neutral for the next fortnight. Strongly positive values over the past month were driven by an exceptionally strong Antarctic polar vortex which has largely subsided.
La Niña is likely at its peak with all but one of the international climate models surveyed by the Bureau indicating a return to neutral conditions (neither El Niño nor La Niña) by early southern autumn. However, typical La Niña impacts are likely to be felt, even as the La Niña weakens.
La Niña increases the likelihood of above-average rainfall across much of Australia during spring, and across much of northern and eastern Australia during summer. Below-average daytime temperatures are typically observed for large parts of the country, particularly Queensland. It also increases the chance of tropical cyclones and earlier first rains of the northern wet season, as we saw this season.
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