La Niña, where the bloody hell are ya?

Craig Brokensha
Swellnet Analysis

So many questions, and all wanting the same answers.

Over the last month I've fielded a few queries along the lines of: "Where are the cyclone swells?" and "Where's La Niña gone?".

While here at Swellnet, we're always quick to point out that cyclones aren't necessarily favourable swell producers, as discussed here, the lack of cyclones (for now) is still a good talking point.

Climate teleconnections (links between climate patterns across large distances) such as the El Niño/La Niña Oscillation (ENSO) and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) don't just play out over weeks, but we see them evolve and influence the climate and weather patterns over months and across seasons. In regards to ENSO, the current La Niña signal, which reached a peak through the central Pacific Ocean around November, is still strong, but closer to us around the Date Line (180 degrees of longitude) the cool sea surface temperature anomalies are only just reaching a peak.

As a result, most climate models have La Niña persisting through March, with a 65% chance that it'll hang through until May. That's another four months away so there's still a long way to go in regards to how this will play out over the coming months. Add in the lag of warmer Coral Sea water feeding south with the East Australian Current and the effects should be felt well into winter.

Now, while this La Niña hasn't been a typical one per se, with starts and stutters, what we should be keeping our eye on is the wave of tropical activity that helps activate and nurture tropical activity across our region. This is known as the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) and it last passed through during December, bringing the large rainfall totals to most of the country while also feeding the deep costal trough that brought the large storm surf to south-east Queensland/northern NSW and also spawning Tropical Cyclones Yasa (severe) and Zazu in the western Pacific Ocean.

The chart below shows where the MJO has been around the Earth (at tropical latitudes) through December (green) and January (dark blue). The perspective is that of looking from the South Pole with the MJO peaking just east of us mid-December, leading to the formation of Tropical Cyclones Yasa and Zazu, weakening before then popping back up in the Indian Ocean.

While south-east Queensland and northern NSW have offered fun, persistent levels of easterly trade-swell along with favourable winds the past couple of weeks, there hasn't been any significant developments since the coastal trough in December.

This can be largely put down to the MJO weakening and moving back across the Indian Ocean as shown above. Looking ahead though, the MJO is currently strengthening across the Indian Ocean and this will lead to the formation of a cyclone or two which will track west towards Madagascar through next week.

Over the coming fortnight this strengthening MJO signal is forecast to move east towards us and this will bring that injection of tropical instability to the region. With this we'll hopefully see the trade-pattern kick back in late in the month/February and depending on the strength of the MJO, likely a cyclone or two.

So sit tight and work around the coming southerly swell episode due next week across the eastern seaboard, with trade-swell likely to follow.

Comments

donweather's picture
donweather's picture
donweather commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 2:54pm

Well into winter..... did WSL already know this when they rescheduled the quiky (now called the billabong) pro for May 2021......

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 3:09pm

Excellent work.

Thanks Craig.

ruckus's picture
ruckus's picture
ruckus commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 3:28pm

BOOM

EastSwellPls's picture
EastSwellPls's picture
EastSwellPls commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 5:26pm

Intelligent and awesome breakdown, a facinating read.
We've all been good, Huey's out there and knows it!

sangsta's picture
sangsta's picture
sangsta commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 5:26pm

Thanks Craig, great stuff.
So the Pacific has lost its MoJO! That makes sense to me.
Need that strong MoJO back on the east coast please.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 6:01pm

Nice write up Craig.

hate to be that pedantic prick but..... "and also spawning Tropical Cyclones Yasa (severe) and Zazu in the Coral Sea".

Yasa and Zazu were South Pacific cyclones, not Coral Sea cyclones.

Neither of them got within a thousand K's of the Coral Sea.

Coral Sea hasn't spawned any cyclones this year 20/21.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 6:41pm

Ahhh yes. To true! Always keeping me on my toes. 

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 6:55pm

Fr cracking the whip......keep you blokes in line

simba

vicbloke's picture
vicbloke's picture
vicbloke commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 7:12pm

Thanks Criag. Informative as always. However, if the predictions are somewhat correct does this mean the Surf Coast will be shite until May?

Walk around G's picture
Walk around G's picture
Walk around G commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 7:23pm

Please, God, NO! Well into winter you say........I was just about to order a full size gun, I'll bloody put that on ice, this is extremely bad news for us down here.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 7:56pm

How big's full size WaG?

Walk around G's picture
Walk around G's picture
Walk around G commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 9:17pm

Was originally thinking 7'10 GF but started looking at an 8'0....I really need some serious paddle power for double to triple OH when amongst, deep-water Southern Ocean power. My old faithful, full figured 6'9 is causing super critical, late take-offs, which I think I'm finally too old and unfit for a successful battle plan.

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 5:36am

Yeah nice one, plenty of good shapers over that side to make you one to

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 7:31pm

I’ll be happy if there’s no large cyclones anywhere near the coral sea.
Thanks for the write up Craig.

dr-surf's picture
dr-surf's picture
dr-surf commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 9:36am

The last La Niña event I remember being quite Favourable for Phillip Island’s Woolamai and the Mornington Pens from Sept to May. Small swells Yes but fairly consistent NE to E and ESE winds. This event has seen very few Offshore Days. I can’t remember the last time Vic had consecutive days of Quality, Just one day a week or sometimes a fortnight. Scanning the SN Cams only WA has had any real quality in recent times.

aussieguy's picture
aussieguy's picture
aussieguy commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 10:28am

I hear you dr. There's been the odd day (Woolamai was great Boxing Day) but definitely lacking in consecutive days.

nipper77's picture
nipper77's picture
nipper77 commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 5:31pm

SA been SHIT!!

nipper77

harrycoopr's picture
harrycoopr's picture
harrycoopr commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 10:45am

Make that shit x77

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 5:34pm

Great stuff Craig. It was clear even to us amateur weather watchers that things had started to cool off, reduced monsoon activity at top end, even the gulf cyclone moved offshore quickly. MJO explains that. Time for water to warm up more and give added impetus to the next round.

Remembering that weather and climate aren't the same, conditions with La Nina and MJO only increase likelihood of cyclogenesis, but nothing is guaranteed. Also, that cyclones being around doesn't guarantee swell. All up though I'm betting there'll be some doozies over the next 4 months. Could be a ripper autumn on the east coast. Sand is even starting to form up better after a torrid winter.

Strap yourself in.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 5:42pm

Yep, nailed it, should be a good year again!

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 5:51pm

we'll see........to my way of thinking we get the most active autumn/winter La Nina surf patterns on both the lead-in to the Nina and on the way out.

I'll put 1999 (way out of 98 La Nina) and 2007 (way into 2008 La Nina) up as my canonical examples.

and 2020 (way in).

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 5:54pm

? Cracking 2021 winter on way out.

We shall see eh

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 6:14pm

As mentioned in articles last year but the flow in effects into autumn and winter seem to be goodens for the East Coast. 2011 as a standout. 

B.B.Blitz's picture
B.B.Blitz's picture
B.B.Blitz commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 8:27pm

Love it, shaping up to be a classic late Summer\Autumn\Winter in Queensland ie Australia day done and dusted and all the holiday makers piss off and the surf turns on.How many times have we seen this pattern over the decades?, justice for locals who have to put up with the hordes over Summer.

Rod Clarke's picture
Rod Clarke's picture
Rod Clarke commented Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 11:02pm

Didn’t we see strange patterns during the last La Niña also with water temperatures through the top of Australia coming down from the Indian monsoons changing what we thought we knew?
I’m not the expert that others are but what we once thought were somewhat predictable southern oscillations seem to be changing due to rise in the water temperature of things like the east coast current.

scott.kempton's picture
scott.kempton's picture
scott.kempton commented Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 8:57am

Stuff summer Autumns always the best time for waves up here predominantly SE winds and gone is the never ending northerly . Not sure what last year's cycle was but Autumn and Winter was never ending in Qld . Just need the sand to return in the right places and not get trashed by those local Storm troughs like the last one in December

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Sunday, 17 Jan 2021 at 12:29am

Meanwhile, Hawaii's had one of their best seasons ever...swell after swell and good winds. A huge one due overnight.
I thought La Nina was generally considered no good for Hawaiian winters, but maybe i had it back to front with El Nino?

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Sunday, 17 Jan 2021 at 6:44am

no, you're right BD.

North Pac looks like a classic full blown Nino.