Rainfall in La Niña years

A La Niña often results in more rainfall than average from northwestern Australia to the south east.

The 16 strongest La Niña years which had the 'classic' autumn to autumn pattern of evolution and decay, started in 1906, 1910, 1916, 1917, 1938, 1950, 1955, 1956, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1988, 1998, 2010, 2020, 2022.

Winter–spring rainfall

The map below shows winter–spring rainfall during La Niña years is generally above average (decile 8 or higher, indicated by the blue shading) across northern and central Australia. Some heavier rainfalls in October and November are associated with an early start to the northern wet season in La Niña years.

Winter–spring rainfall is not the exact opposite of the corresponding El Niño impact. Northeast Tasmania, northern Victoria, and eastern parts of South Australia show a tendency towards wet conditions in La Niña years, similar in strength to the El Niño tendency towards dry conditions in El Niño years. For northern South Australia and northern Queensland, the La Niña response is stronger than the El Niño response.

Winter–Spring mean rainfall deciles across Australia for the La Niña years.
Figure 1: Australian Winter–Spring mean rainfall deciles for 16 La Niña years.

The effect of La Niña on winter–spring rainfall is limited for coastal areas of Victoria and New South Wales, extending to Fraser Island in southern Queensland. The reasons for the inconsistent response of winter–spring rainfall to El Niño and La Niña for the coastal areas of New South Wales and southern Queensland are the subject of current research. Rainfall in these parts often arises from the lifting of on-shore air streams as they flow over the Great Dividing Range. A lot of the month to month and year to year rainfall variability from these airstreams seems to be due to the chaotic nature of the mid-latitude weather systems, which form a major feature of the weather and climate patterns of southern and central Australia.

Winter–spring rainfall: 1906 1910 1916 1917 1938 1950 1955 1956 1971 1973 1975 1988 1998 2010 2020 2022

Winter and spring temperature

La Niña years tend to see cooler than average daytime temperatures across most of mainland Australia south of the tropics, particularly during the second half of the year. Due to increased cloud cover and hence warmer nights, regions of southern New South Wales and northern Victoria can experience less frost days.

La Niña June–November maximum temperature deciles composite map La Niña June–November minimum temperature deciles composite map

Summer rainfall

Generally, La Niña's impact on Australian summer rainfall (Figure 2) is relatively less than the winter–spring impact. This is especially the case over Tasmania, SA, the NT and WA which have large areas of close to average rainfall (deciles 5 and 6, shaded white). Like the winter–spring period, the impact from La Niña is more widespread and intense during summer than the corresponding impact from El Niño.

Summer mean rainfall deciles across Australia for 16 La Niña years.
Figure 2: Australian Summer mean rainfall deciles for 16 La Niña years.

There is a contraction and weakening of the effect in western Queensland, but in the east of that state, the La Niña-induced tendency towards wetter than average conditions continues to be moderate to strong. This is significant as December to February are, on average, three of the four wettest months in this part of the country. In eastern NSW, there is an increased tendency for wet conditions in comparison with the impact during the winter-spring period. As with eastern Queensland, this is significant in northern NSW because the region experiences a natural summer rainfall maximum.

It should not be expected that summer rainfall in any given La Niña year will follow the pattern of Figure 2.

Summer rainfall: 1906–07 1910–11 1916–17 1917–18 1938–39 1950–51 1955–56 1956–57 1971–72 1973–74 1975–76 1988–89 1998–99 2010–11 2020–21 2022–23

Summer temperature

In the warmer half of the year, southern coastal locations such as Adelaide and Melbourne experience fewer individual daily heat extremes during Niña years but an increased frequency of prolonged warm spells.

La Niña December–February maximum temperature deciles composite map La Niña December–February minimum temperature deciles composite map

About the maps

The maps above are composites of the moderate to strong La Niña or El Niño years. They provide guidance on the typical conditions during a moderate to strong La Niña or El Niño. For each of these years, the deciles for the winter–spring and summer period are calculated against all years since data was available to the relevant latest month. These deciles are then averaged for each point in Australia, and the result mapped. Rainfall has data available from 1900, and temperature has data available from 1910.

Rainfall and temperature in La Niña or El Niño years does not follow an identical pattern to the maps above. These maps show average patterns. In reality, each La Niña or El Niño year will be slightly different and it is always possible for areas of below-average rainfall to occur during a La Niña, or above-average rainfall during El Niño.