Commentary on rainfall probabilities based on 'phases' of the SOI
The monthly value of the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was +9.1 for December and -2.2 for January. According to the SOI Phase system, the SOI is in a ‘Rapidly Falling’ phase.
A map showing the probability of exceeding median rainfall for the next three-month period (February to April) based on a ‘Rapidly Falling’ phase of the SOI over December and January is available. This map is based on previous years from 1889 to 2015 which, like 2018, had a ‘Rapidly Falling’ phase of the SOI for January (i.e. 1889, 1905, 1912, 1928, 1933, 1946, 1955, 1958, 1961, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1998 and 2004). This map indicates a 30 to 50 per cent probability of exceeding median February to April rainfall for much of Queensland, with higher probabilities of exceeding median rainfall for that period for parts of southern Queensland. However, it is difficult to draw meaningful statistics from this information, as at this time of year the SOI has low reliability as an indicator of rainfall for the autumn season.
When using a climate outlook it should be remembered that the probability, or per cent chance, of something occurring is just that – a probability. For example, if there is a 70 per cent probability of exceeding median rainfall, then there is also a 30 per cent probability of below-median rainfall. It does not mean that rainfall will be 70 per cent more than the median.
Furthermore, while climate outlook schemes cannot provide outlooks with absolute certainty, users who follow a skilful scheme should benefit from doing so in the long-term. Thus, users should consider the historical track record of any scheme, and such information is becoming increasingly available.
The Science and Technology Division of the Department of Environment and Science (DES) provides outlooks for the summer period (November to March). The outlooks for summer rainfall are based on conditions leading up to summer, including the state of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon and factors which alter the impact of ENSO on Queensland rainfall (i.e. the more slowly changing extra-tropical sea-surface temperature pattern in the Pacific Ocean). The DES Monthly Climate Statement for February 2019 is now available.