Northern rainfall onset

Onset outlook and rainfall observations. The rainfall observations section is active from 1 September to 31 May

Rainfall maps are updated Tuesday afternoons from October to the end of May

For map alternatives see: reports and summaries that describe rainfall history.

Radio buttons show maps of rainfall totals since September 1, 50mm (onset) date, and onset anomaly days.

Map showing season-to-date rainfall
Rainfall since 1 September

Observations product code: IDCKARJNTB

What are the normal onset dates?

What is the usual onset date?

The northern rainfall onset occurs when enough rainfall has fallen to stimulate plant growth after the tropical dry season. This is defined as the date when at least 50 mm of rainfall has accumulated after 1 September. Parts of coastal Queensland and the western Top End typically accumulate 50 mm by late October or early November, spreading further south and inland over following weeks. The southern inland regions of the Northern Territory and Queensland, as well as western parts of Western Australia usually have the latest northern rainfall onset; around mid-January. The long-term median is calculated by averaging the onset date for each year from 1981–2018.

Dark grey shading on the map represents areas where there are too few weather stations to support an analysis.

El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the northern rainfall onset

  • The northern Australian rainfall onset is greatly affected by the phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. During El Niño years, the onset date tends to be later than normal, while during La Niña years, the northern rainfall onset tends to be earlier than usual.
  • The maps show the average northern rainfall onset date based on different phases of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. The maps show years where the July–August average of the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) has been below −8 (El Niño), above +8 (La Niña), or in between (neutral). The maps are calculated for all years between 1981 and 2018.

About the outlook

What is the northern rainfall onset?

  • The northern rainfall onset occurs when enough rain has fallen to stimulate plant growth after the northern dry season. This is defined as the date when rainfall accumulated after 1 September reaches at least 50 mm. The rainfall onset is especially significant for primary producers, including the agricultural and horticultural sectors.
  • Parts of coastal Queensland and the western Top End regions typically have a northern rainfall onset date of October or early November, and this spreads further south and inland over coming weeks. The southern inland regions of the Northern Territory and Queensland, as well as western parts of Western Australia usually have the latest northern rainfall onset, around mid-January.
  • The rainfall onset as defined here is different from the Australian monsoon onset, which is characterised by a reversal of the prevailing winds and widespread heavy rainfall. The north Australian monsoon usually arrives at Darwin in the last week of December.
  • Dark grey shading on the maps represent areas where the weather station density is not sufficient to support an analysis. Light grey shading means that the usual rainfall onset date occurs later than the currently issued forecast period.

Using the rainfall onset outlook information

  • The Bureau's northern rainfall onset outlook indicates the likelihood of the rainfall onset beginning earlier or later than the average onset date (see Normal onset). The outlooks are based on probabilities (i.e., the chance of the rains beginning earlier than normal), and are produced by the same Bureau climate model used for the climate outlooks.
  • Outlooks are issued from June through to the end of August each year.
  • The outlooks do not give an indication of rainfall amounts for the duration of the wet season, nor do they state categorically (i.e., 'yes' or 'no') that the northern rainfall onset will be early or late. They give a percentage chance of whether it will be early or late. Values of 60% and above indicate an increased chance of an early northern rainfall onset; values of 40% and below indicate an increased chance of a late northern rainfall onset. Values between 40% to 60% show no strong signs of the onset being earlier or later than usual. The outlooks are designed to be used as a tool in risk management and decision-making.

How accurate is the outlook?


Model accuracy (also known as model confidence or model skill) is a measure of how well the model has performed in the past for that time of the year. One way the Bureau measures the accuracy of its climate models is by comparing how often the real outcomes matched the forecast (as a percentage). This measurement of accuracy is known as percent consistent, and has been tested over the period from 1990 to 2012.

Historical accuracy maps for all outlook start dates are available above. Generally, the closer to September an outlook is produced, the higher its accuracy will be. This concept is similar to a weather forecast, with forecasts for tomorrow being more accurate than one for seven days ahead. On the historical accuracy maps, the higher the percent consistent value for an area (i.e. the greener/darker the map), the higher the accuracy has been in that area in the past, and thus more confidence can be placed in the outlook for those regions. Areas of the maps that are not green/coloured do not have a good record of accuracy. In the least accurate areas, the outlooks are no better than random chance (equivalent to flipping a coin). In areas not coloured green, some caution should be taken when using the forecast, notably at times when there is not a strong driver of our climate present (e.g. when there is no El Niño or La Niña).

It must always be remembered that the outlooks provide probability-based information. They are statements of chance or likelihood. For example, a 75% (or three in four) chance of an early rainfall onset still means there is a one in four chance that the rainfall onset will be late.

Further reading

About the rainfall observation maps

Rainfall maps and schedule

  • Three maps are provided and all relate to the northern rainfall onset: rainfall totals map, rainfall onset date map and an early or late map.
  • Station data used are from the Bureau of Meteorology's rainfall network. As a result, not all areas across Australia are covered by a rainfall station.
  • A weighted analysis scheme is applied to station data, providing a broad spatial gridded coverage throughout Australia. The daily grids area available through the AWAP dataset.
  • Not all of the available data is available on the day of the rainfall being recorded – for some sites these are delivered many months later.
  • The maps are updated each Tuesday afternoon, between 1 October and 31 May.
  • From June until the start of the next northern rainfall onset season, the final end of season maps remain available for review.
  • End of season maps are available in each archive page since the 2015–2016 season.

Rainfall 'Totals' map

  • The rainfall is accumulated each day, starting from 1 September.
  • The rainfall accumlates until the end of May of the following year.

See also: Recent and past rainfall maps

Rainfall 'Onset date' map

  • The 'Onset date' map shows the dates where the 50 mm onset threshold has occurred.
  • Areas with totals below the onset threshold of 50 mm are not shown.

'Early or late' map

  • The 'Early or late?' map shows the number of days earlier or later than the mean (normal) onset date.

See also: Northern rainfall onset mean onset date

Rainfall observations archive

  • 'Totals', 'Onset date' and 'Early or late' end-of-season maps are available from each archive page.
  • Archive page dates are tied to rainfall onset outlook dates, so the latest year of archives displays the end-of-season maps from the previous season.

Early rainfall onset likely for most of northern Australia

The chance of an early rainfall onset for northern Australia for the 2020–21 wet season is higher than average over most of northern Australia. The highest likelihood is across inland and central coastal parts of Queensland, and southern Northern Territory. There are roughly equal chances of an early or late rainfall onset for the western half of Western Australia, and far northern parts of Australia.

The northern rainfall onset outlook gives an indication of whether the first significant rains after 1 September are likely to be earlier or later than average. View normal onset dates here.

This is the final NRO outlook for 2020–21. From September 1, please check the observations tab for daily updates of rainfall accumulation and onset status.


The increased likelihood of La Niña in 2020 is influencing this outlook. Recent changes in water temperature patterns across the Indian Ocean have increased the likelihood of a negative Indian Ocean Dipole developing in 2020. Increased moisture in the atmosphere, a result of these climate drivers, can enhance rainfall over the north of the country when weather patterns are favourable for rain. The ENSO Outlook is at La Niña ALERT, indicating that there is a roughly 70% chance La Niña will develop in the coming months – three times the average likelihood. During La Niña, the northern rainfall onset typically occurs earlier than usual; central and eastern parts can also experience above average rainfall.

Map showing the chance of early rainfall onset across tropical Australia

Product code: IDCKOCNRN0

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