The Department of Environment and Science (DES) monitors sea-surface temperature (SST) anomalies in key regions of the Pacific Ocean over autumn, winter and spring, and provides objective outlooks for summer (November to March) rainfall on this basis. Based on the evolving SST pattern in the Pacific Ocean, the Science and Technology Division of DES considers that the probability of exceeding median summer (November to March) rainfall is currently slightly higher than normal for much of Queensland.
The most closely monitored driver of Queensland rainfall is the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. Climate scientists monitor several ENSO indices, including the atmospheric Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) and SST anomalies in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean. Having been at more extreme (La Niña) levels over spring and summer, key ENSO indices have now returned to near-average values. The most recent three-month SOI value* (+1.3 at the end of May) is much lower than the peak value reached at the end of February (+14.7). Likewise, the most recent three-month Niño 3.4 SST anomaly** (-0.4°C) is much weaker than the recent peak value of -1.3°C at the end of December. The Bureau of Meteorology and international agencies currently classify atmospheric and oceanic conditions as ‘ENSO-neutral’.
The relationship between ENSO indices and subsequent Queensland summer rainfall strengthens over winter and peaks through spring, but in early winter this relationship is weak. At this time of year, the SST gradient across the central and south-western Pacific Ocean (i.e. the South Pacific Convergence Zone) tends to persist and is more strongly related to upcoming summer rainfall in Queensland.
The current DES outlook for summer rainfall in Queensland is based on an objective analysis of SST gradients across key regions of the Pacific Ocean, including those regions related to ENSO. On this basis, the Science and Technology Division of DES considers that the probability of exceeding median summer (November to March) rainfall is currently slightly higher than normal for much of Queensland (see map in PDF).
SST anomalies in the central equatorial Pacific tend to ‘lock in’ over the winter, spring and summer seasons. This persistence provides a basis for seasonal forecasting. DES will provide updates of the outlook for summer rainfall from July to November, factoring in any change to the ENSO-related SST pattern during this period.
Readers are cautioned that seasonal outlooks are expressed in terms of probabilities. Even though an outcome has a high probability of occurring based on historical records, a less likely outcome may still occur in any given year. For more information, please contact Ken Day: firstname.lastname@example.org
* www.longpaddock.qld.gov.au/soi/soi-data-files (monthly SOI 1887-1989 base period)
** www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/data/indices (monthly OISST.v2 1991-2020 base period)