Northern Australia Welcomes End of La Niña

25 May 2011 FDI Team

Background

The end of the capricious La Niña weather pattern will provide ecological stability for Northern Australia.

Comment

According to climate models surveyed by the Bureau of Meteorology, La Niña, or “the girl” in Spanish, the weather phenomenon responsible for flooding and increased cyclonic activity over Northern Australia, has begun to dissipate. Since the beginning of May, sea surface temperature conditions have returned to normal and the Bureau forecasts “neutral conditions” over the winter months.

The 2010-11 La Niña cycle was one of the strongest on record, with Asia and northern Latin America experiencing heavy rains and flooding. Australia experienced its third-wettest year since records began, with torrential rains over Northern Australia, higher intensity cyclonic activity and over 30 deaths.

La Niña weather patterns occur at varying intervals, usually around once a decade, and last for around 12-24 months. La Niña, the counterpart to El Niño (the Christ Child), is characterised by warmer than usual sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near Australia and cooler temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. The cause of the change in temperature remains unknown. Temperature variances influence south-east trade winds across the tropical Pacific Ocean, increasing moisture levels across eastern and northern Australia. Over the last month, sea surface temperatures have returned to normal.

The meteorologists’ forecast for neutral conditions is particularly good news for Northern Australia. The lack of a return to El Niño, which brings drought, bodes well for the agricultural and pastoral sectors. Similarly, the end of extreme weather will bolster the resource and hydrocarbon sectors with periods of better weather resulting in higher levels of productivity.

As highlighted by the significant economic and ecological damage from the 2010-11 event, a significant gap exists in the scientific understanding of La Niña. To develop mitigation strategies to manage disasters, such as the Queensland flooding, it is imperative that effective studies to determine thecatalysts for temperature variation in the Pacific Ocean are developed, particularly when the forecasts of climate change are taken into account.

Liam McHugh

Strategic Analyst

FDI Northern Australia and Energy Security Research Programmes

[email protected]

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