In August this year, IMOS OceanCurrent scientists observed a dramatic drop in sea level in the Western equatorial Pacific, indicating the powerful El Niño pattern we are now experiencing.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the peak in sea surface temperatures brought by El Niño is likely to happen in December before easing in the first three months of next year.
Once those water temperatures finally begin to drop, Australia will be in for one of three possible outcomes: a return to neutral conditions; a La Niña which increases the chance of a wet year; or the dreaded double El Niño which won’t help the dry and hot conditions we’re already experiencing.
Dr Jaci Brown, Senior Research Scientist at the CSIRO, told news.com.au conditions could well be nudging us towards a welcome La Niña.
“In an El Niño, there’s warm water in the western Pacific Ocean, and the ocean acts to dispel that warm water and replace it with cold water, and that sets the ocean to be primed for a La Niña event,” she said.
“That’s why we often see see a La Niña after an El Niño. We should be in the right conditions for a La Niña to occur, the ocean wants one to occur, it’s just a matter of whether it ticks over or not.
“If it’s La Niña (that comes next), for a lot of primary industries that’s great news, and we need to figure out how to how to cash in on that to make up for the loss this year.
However, La Niña events are not necessarily good news for all. La Niña events are also associated with tropical cyclones and flooding.
Dr Brown reiterated that it is very difficult to predict which way the weather will go. She said while we could look to the past to see how previous El Niño and La Niña events behaved, there’s one big thing clouding our judgment of the future – climate change.
“We know climate change is real and it’s happening and it’s changing the playing field, and changing the way things operate and the tools we use,” she said.
“We can’t necessarily look to the past and see that as a guarantee of how the future’s going to look because we just don’t know what the interactions between climate change and El Niño and La Niña is. We’re going blind a little bit.
“This is why it’s so important we measure our oceans, using satellites and buoys and ARGO floats (measuring temperature and salinity), and the integrated marine observing system (IMOS) that measure what’s happening in the ocean around Australia and how the ocean is flowing.
“What people don't realise is that our weather is controlled by the ocean — I know it can seem a bit far-fetched for someone in central Australia, but it’s those patterns in the ocean that determine advanced knowledge about climate.”
Parts of this article have been reproduced from This is what Australia could expect once El Niño goes away, published by www.news.com.au, 13 November, 2015