La Niña predicted to bring rain for north and fires for south

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Emergency Information Environment Science & Research University & TAFE Weather

Climatologist and CQUniversity's Adjunct Professor of Environmental Geography, Steve Turton

Following last week's La Niña watch activation by the Bureau of Meteorology, weather experts are on standby to see if Australia will be affected by a combination of active monsoons in the north and dry, fire weather in the south east of the country this summer.

According to climatologist and CQUniversity's Adjunct Professor of Environmental Geography, Steve Turton, a La Niña confirmation could ensure a solid wet season for northern Australia, providing much-needed rain for drought-affected areas of northern and central Queensland, while the south east of Australia may be susceptible to heat waves and fire weather events.

"While the El Niño − Southern Oscillation (ENSO) remains neutral, models are suggesting that the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean will continue to cool, making a 50 percent chance of a La Niña later this year," Professor Turton explained.

"Atmospheric indicators, including the Southern Oscillation Index which currently is at positive 12.5, suggests we're heading towards a La Niña.

"It's unusual for a La Niña to occur so late in the year, which means that if it does occur, history suggests it will probably be short-lived.

"We won't be looking at something like the back-to-back 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 La Niña events which caused major flooding to parts of Queensland. This will be a much weaker event."

Professor Turton explained that while the La Niña is likely to bring good rain for northern Australia, it is also unlikely to be widespread across Australia as there are competing climate drivers.

"We could potentially be in for above average rainfall in northern Australia for the next three months, however, the competing influence of warm waters to the north of Australia and cool waters in the eastern Indian Ocean, do not favour widespread rainfall for November to January," he explained.

"In fact, a weak La Niña could mean a high risk of heatwaves and fire weather in the south-east of the continent."

He says despite the potential for good rain in the north, it won't change the cyclone outlook which suggests a typical season.

Despite the United States and the Caribbean having an active hurricane season this year, Professor Turton also suggested this was unlikely to impact Australia' cyclone season.

"The US hurricanes are reliant on what's happening in the Atlantic Ocean and west Africa as opposed to Australia where we are more influenced on what's occurring in the Pacific and Indian Oceans."

Climate scientists will have a better idea about the future status of the current La Niña watch over coming weeks.

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