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QCCCE monthly climate statement, January 2011

The Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence (the Centre) considers that there is an increased probability of above-median rainfall throughout most of Queensland for the remainder of this summer. Read more (PDF, 393K, last updated 12:48PM, 14 February 2011)*
The Centre’s understanding is based on the current and projected state of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon and on factors which modulate  the impact of ENSO on Queensland rainfall (for example the Pacific Decadal Oscillation).

As at January 1 2011, the Centre notes that:

The recent sea-surface temperature pattern in the North Pacific remains consistent with a ‘cool phase’ of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO).  The PDO modulates the impact of ENSO on summer rainfall in Queensland, particularly under La Niña conditions.

A cool phase of the PDO, coupled with La Niña conditions, is particularly favourable for summer rainfall in Queensland (e.g. see the Centre’s experimental SPOTA-1 scheme which incorporates a measure of both ENSO and the PDO). These conditions are also usually associated with enhanced tropical cyclone activity in the Coral Sea, which is discussed in the Bureau of Meteorology’s Seasonal Outlook 2010-11 for Queensland and the Coral Sea.

So far this summer both November and December have been extremely wet (rainfall between the 90th and 100th percentile) and the two month-period produced record high rainfall totals (PDF, 529K, last updated 08:58AM, 27 January 2011)* in many regions.

Many regions have already received rainfall totals which exceed the long-term median for the entire summer (November to March (PDF, 492K, last updated 12:43PM, 20 January 2011)*). More detailed information regarding December rainfall events is provided in a Special Statement (PDF)* from the Bureau of Meteorology.

There are various approaches to developing probabilistic rainfall outlooks based on the information considered above. These approaches tend to differ in terms of which components of the climate system are considered. As such, each approach might convey a different outlook, particularly for specific locations. However the ENSO and PDO signals have historically had the strongest impact on rainfall in north-eastern Queensland and the weakest impact in south-eastern Queensland.

The Centre produces two statistical climate risk assessment schemes:

It is important that users understand the nature of seasonal outlooks and take a long-term risk management approach to such information. The above schemes indicate rainfall probabilities based on historical relationships. Users should appreciate that if, for example, an outlook is for a 70 per cent probability of above-median rainfall, this also means there is a 30 per cent probability of below-median rainfall. As such, users should also be aware that an increased risk of above or below-median rainfall in Queensland due to ENSO will not necessarily result in above or below-median rainfall occurring throughout the state (for example, see Australia’s Variable Rainfall poster (PDF, 1.0M, last updated 11:42AM, 24 June 2010)* or our archive of historical rainfall maps).

The Centre understands that each of the schemes may have its own particular following. Although such schemes cannot provide outlooks with absolute certainty each year, those who follow a skilful scheme should benefit from doing so in the long-term. Users should consider the historical track record of any scheme and such information is becoming increasingly available. For example, an historical archive of SPOTA-1 reports is available on the Long Paddock website. Users should also consider the wide range of information available each month describing the current state of the ocean/climate system.

ENSO influences other climate variables apart from rainfall (e.g. temperature, pan evaporation and vapour pressure). This means that the impact of ENSO on crop or pasture growth can be stronger than on rainfall alone. The impact of ENSO on pasture growth is also dependent on current pasture condition and soil water status. The Centre’s AussieGRASS model takes these factors into account in producing pasture growth seasonal probabilities.

For further information on climate change science and information, visit www.longpaddock.qld.gov.au or contact QCCCE@climatechange.qld.gov.au

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Last updated 15 February 2011

Seasonal climate outlook