Australia on La Niña Watch: BOM eyes potential for late 2024 event amid record global sea temperatures

The Bureau of Meteorology have issued a La Niña update, with early indicators of a potential event forming later in 2024.

According to the most recent Climate Driver Update provided by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions in the Pacific remain neutral. Analysis and model forecasts hint at the possibility of coming changes, with a Lean Niña Watch issued due to early indicators of a potential event forming later in 2024.

The latest insights reveal that sea surface temperatures in the central tropical Pacific are anticipated to cool further in the following months. Of the seven models analysed, four predict the temperatures will maintain neutral ENSO levels. The other three models suggest a descent into La Niña levels from August.

It’s important to note that a La Niña Watch simply indicates a roughly equal chance that either neutral ENSO conditions will persist or that a La Niña event will develop within the same period. This early sign does not guarantee the onset of La Niña and its direct effects on mainland Australia are generally minimal; instead, they more accurately reflect conditions in the tropical Pacific.

In addition to ENSO, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is also currently exhibiting neutral values. The last six weeks have kept the IOD index within neutral ranges, with the latest weekly position nearly zero. Predictive capacity for the IOD remains low during this time of year but is expected to improve moving into the winter months.

Globally, sea surface temperatures have reached record highs continuously from April 2023 through to May 2024. This heating pattern disrupts the historical global sea surface temperature patterns typically associated with ENSO and IOD events. Given these unprecedented conditions, making historical comparisons to forecast climate impacts may not be as reliable.

The Bureau of Meteorology suggests referring to the long-range forecast, which provides more targeted guidance on local climate circumstances rather than broad-scale indicators like La Niña.

Other climate indices monitored include the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), both of which are currently indicating minimal influence on Australia’s climate. As of 8 June, SAM is neutral with expectations to remain so through the end of the month. Similarly, the MJO is weak, with forecasts predicting it will continue to have little impact on Australian rainfall over the next two weeks.

As these climate drivers play a significant role in shaping seasonal weather patterns, ongoing monitoring and updates from the Bureau are crucial for predictive and preparatory purposes, particularly in industries dependent on weather conditions.

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