La Niña Is Here, Why Did The BOM Take So Long?

Craig Brokensha picture
Craig Brokensha (Craig)
Swellnet Analysis

Why did the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) take so long to call the current La Niña event?

Various other meteorological agencies called it many months ago. In all recent updates, the USA's National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has stated 'La Niña is present', similarly, the Japanese Meteorological Association (JMA) said, 'Atmospheric and oceanic indicators suggest ongoing La Niña conditions in the equatorial Pacific', and even the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said 'La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific have persisted and strengthened as trade winds intensified during mid-July to mid-August 2022.'

So why did we sit on 'La Niña Alert'  for so long when the indicators throughout the Pacific Ocean all sit above the appropriate thresholds.

It comes back to the baseline periods the signals are being compared to from agency to agency.

Firstly, the monitoring of the state of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (La Niña, El Niño or Neutral) is done by observing the difference in the surface temperature from 'normal' across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. That 'normal' being the thirty year climate average.

The region spanning the central Pacific Ocean gives the greatest indication of whether we're in a cool or warm water phase, and this is known as the Niño 3.4 region. The average temperature across this section of ocean is compared to the long-term climatic mean and this is where the crux of the issue falls.

The Niño 3.4 region spanning the central Pacific Ocean (combining yellow and red regions)

The BOM is comparing the temperatures across the Pacific Ocean to the 1960-1989 baseline, but thanks to climate change, sea surface temperatures have warmed slightly during the years following.

This has to be accounted for, as any drop in the surface temperature away from the current 'normal' won't be as great if using the older baseline.

The warming is only small and about 0.3°C through the Niño 3.4 region but the threshold for an El Niño/La Niña event is of a similar scale and +/- 0.5C respectively for global agencies, a touch higher and +/-0.8°C for the BOM.

This has an effect on the classification of such an event throughout the Pacific Ocean depending on which baseline you use.

The average temperature across the Niño 3.4 region from 1960-1989 was 26.79°C, but for the period 1990-2019 it was 27.1°C - a warming of 0.3°C.

Now, the Niño 3.4 reading for July 2022 was 26.59°C. That's -0.51°C below the 1990-2019 baseline, and falling into La Niña thresholds for NOAA and other agencies, but comparing it to the 1960-1989 baseline (which the BOM uses) it only comes in at -0.2°C, under the threshold for La Niña.

This is why the BOM's current classification differs from all other agencies. It's using an old baseline (along with a slightly higher threshold) which in the current ocean climate becomes irrelevant. On the other side it also makes the El Niño threshold much smaller, with the Niño 3.4 region only needing to warm up 0.5°C, which is inaccurate.

The August values for the Niño 3.4 region have just come in at 25.89°C, pushing us deep into La Niña territory, regardless of the baseline and threshold used. Using the older BOM baseline we've got a difference of -0.9°C, and with the more relevant climate baseline, a difference of -1.21°C.

With this latest data expect the BOM to issue a La Niña update any day, coming into line with most of the agencies around the world (they did just that on publishing this article).

Whether we see the BOM updating their baseline to a more current and relevant thirty year period is unknown, though my thoughts are these adjustments will need to be made in the near future for the alert system to remain relevant.

Sea surface temperature anomaly through the Pacific Ocean showing the clear La Niña cool signal. The Niño 3.4 region is shown in black. Source (NOAA)


freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 4:08pm


It's been a classic (La Niña) SST anomaly distribution for months, glad to see BOM get in line.

Nice one Craig, you're definitely been ahead of the curve with these ENSO calls.

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suchas Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 4:25pm
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monkeyboy Wednesday, 14 Sep 2022 at 1:30pm

Insurance. Bloody expensive if you can get it.

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Craig Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 4:33pm

Interesting suchas.

Most long-range seasonal forecast models have the precipitation falling back to around normal ranges for the East Coast from January.

It looks to be wettest leading up to summer over the coming months.

The issue is with the soil moisture levels being near 100% for much of the eastern seaboard, any rain that falls won't be able to be absorbed, causing more run-off and flooding into already swollen/flooded catchments.

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freeride76 Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 5:44pm

Western NSW also extremely wet from Neg IOD rainfall.

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Distracted Wednesday, 14 Sep 2022 at 3:35pm

Flew over western NSW recently and it is amazing to see how green it is plus the water filled rivers and wetlands.
I think last time Lake Eyre filled was in the early 70’s, also a triple La Niña . The inland systems are currently wet and primed…. just needs a big low to drift down from the gulf in summer to deliver and it may fill again.

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delay_pdl Saturday, 17 Sep 2022 at 10:09am

Hey Distracted I flew back from Bali to Melb in May/June 09 I think, or Feb 2011 and the all the country from Hedland to Melb was green, shiny, swirling with water courses and yep, Lake Eyre was full as a goog. Was absolutely amazing and lucky our flights to and from Bali were during daytime, so that on the way there everything was red, dry, normal then a couple days before we flew home a tropical depression dumped over most of the country, creating a beautiful and stunning transformation. I can't describe the joy and honour I still feel having witnessed this. Neg IOD rainfall perhaps..

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wally Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 6:18pm

The longer this wet spell goes on, the more I fear the following long dry spell. Craig, is this fear rational?

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Andrew P Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 8:43pm

Qualitatively yes; a warming climate leads to a higher likelihood of more extreme weather events more frequently. I think the western US is experiencing extreme drought at the moment. Our millennium drought wasn’t that long ago - hope it doesn’t come back post the triple dip

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CampDog Wednesday, 14 Sep 2022 at 5:05pm

The thought that this is all creating plenty of fuel for more big fires also plagues the back of my mind.

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Craig Wednesday, 14 Sep 2022 at 5:15pm

Totally, everything is going nuts so they'll need to get plenty of prescribed burning under way.

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SDW Wednesday, 14 Sep 2022 at 8:52pm

I reckon it is quite a rational fear. All these systems, El Niño/La Niña positive and negative IOD’s are simply patterns of oceanic heat dissipation. If there is more heat going into the system, I think it stands to reason that these systems will continue to amplify and perhaps more worryingly, though I am speculating a bit here, have a greater frequency of becoming more entrenched, ie more frequent triple dip La Niña, back to back El Niño etc. Perhaps this will be because as these systems become so supercharged with extra heat, they may override other more moderate weather cycles that help to bring a return to neutral conditions. I don’t really know but that’s the way I see it happening.

I think there is already a pretty good example of this type of heat induced ‘stubbornness’ in the atmosphere with the observed Hadley Cell expansion that has taken place over recent decades. The blocking effects of these gigantic highs are now such a familiar features of Australian winters and we see so little frontal activity north of about 35S nowadays. An interesting example of this can be seen this past winter in the exceptionally cold minimums for July in Alice Springs. Alice actually had a run of 15 days with a below 0 temp recorded! All due to stagnant high pressure systems keeping things clear an calm over the centre of the continent for weeks on end. Couple this with the increased incidence for positive SAM values and you have a recipe for the weather to remain pretty rigid at times over our part of the world. They reckon they have observed a similar pattern in Europe with the expansion of the Azores High, which has allowed hot, dry air from Africa to be fed increasingly further north into Europe over the summer,
hence the heatwaves over recent years.

So yeah, I think with more heat we will continue to see these large scale climate systems to be more intense with an increased probability for longer duration events. Which will be very worrying indeed if we get a longer El Niño/ Positive IOD type scenario than what we saw from 2017 - 2020

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Craig Thursday, 15 Sep 2022 at 6:02am

Great addition there SDW, lots of food for thought.

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Sprout Tuesday, 13 Sep 2022 at 8:27pm

Nice work Craig, you're all over it.

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john.callahan Wednesday, 14 Sep 2022 at 11:10am

Thanks Craig - the BOM should definitely update their baseline.

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vicbloke Wednesday, 14 Sep 2022 at 3:29pm

another 6 months of junk for the Surf Coast

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truebluebasher Wednesday, 14 Sep 2022 at 8:42pm

Drowning in Tears.
Climate Change is belting insurance mobs & markets...
In today's world BOM boss State Premier/s to lockdown SEQ ahead of a sniff of severe weather.
BOM shut down SEQ for 2 mths/year beaches / Roads / recreation are secured off limits.
Perhaps only 50% of those calls are required...the rest is spooked by insurance.

BOM 3x La Nina / 2x Dipole declaration translates to a (Base level) > imminent Severe Event.
Rain imminent > Dams Full > Catchment Soaked > Creeks choked > Rivers banked > Seas Rising

This automatically triggers ALL Govt / Council / Emergency Response...(See : SEQ Severe Events)
Uni Experts : "Flood Watch calls over next 6 months
Govts / Councils > (Now!) Get Ready / Kits & Plans Emergency Refuge Campaigns
BOM prophecy > Greens send out their message bang on Gospel!

Bne is right now urgently handing out 3 weeks of Free Sand Bags (Yes Now! Hurry!)
NSW State Emergency Service issue Warnings urging people to prepare. (Now!)
Yes! Northern Rivers must prepare for Spring > Summer rain events!

Again! Soon as BOM pressed the Button...Bingo! It's game on!

*BOM La Nina Call > also instantly triggers an actual "Insurance Embargo" (Very real!)
( Imminent Event > immediately locks out Low lying / Storm Zone Insurance take up! )
Business must upgrade to "Interruption Insurance + adopt Emergency Plans!"
Commercial Property have new stricter urgent compliance for Roof / Entry / Windows / doors...(Now!)

Insurers Ramp up 2023 min cover & reduce share dividends.

(Yes! All this in today's news!) Can you feel the BOM power!

Oz BOM > US Stock Market Alarm Bells start ringing.
South American Corn / Soy Crops get written down

Next: China bully & up trade with South America to secure traditional stables Corn > Pork for Masses!

Oz East Coast Crops factor in Flooded shortage Supply lines as inflation soars > Interest Rates Soar.
Potentially stalling Xmas supply lines to ramp incoming Covid Wave! (Just keeps coming!)

Storm ravaged SEQ have lived under BOM orders for the last 5-10 years & jump when BOM says so.
We can share whatever BOM says instantly triggers Govt defensive reaction.
Climate Change BOM once ruled Oz...then came the Pandemic.

BOM Godz are simply returning to their thrones during the Pandemic Expert's Spring Break!
We could be looking at Govts walking a tight rope between Climate Catastrophe (vs) X Mass Pandemic
Only when Govt steady the line can BOM or Experts declare their next End of the World prophecy!

Just saying that not long ago World never cared wot BOM the World revolves around them.
Oddly answers a lot as to why BOM pause for effect, without saying anything! A new world for sure!

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Gary Blair Thursday, 15 Sep 2022 at 9:17am

Well, stimulating a policy of "greener" innovations is a positive for the other half million species that inhabit this planet

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oldman Thursday, 15 Sep 2022 at 2:16pm

I am sure I read recently about triple La Nina events and it has occurred 3 times and they were 25 years apart 1998, 1973 and 1950 (these dates from memory)
Given the recurring similar cycle it is difficult to lay the blame entirely on climate change.
Anyway shit surf for SA for another year.

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Craig Thursday, 15 Sep 2022 at 2:21pm

No link from me here regarding the triple-dip and climate change Oldman. Yeah looks to be a 20-25yr cycle of sorts.

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tubeshooter Thursday, 15 Sep 2022 at 6:34pm

Latest call from the BOM for the rest of the year ,,

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truebluebasher Sunday, 18 Sep 2022 at 2:12pm

Craig's question seems surreal & should answer itself.
Let's lay out the truths in a timeline to draw a conclusion.

Firstly! All the crew are on the same page as everywhere else in the world.
Meaning Climate Change is overwhelming & requires pro not past response.

Signs of the Times are examples of answering Craig's question & an excellent place to start!
Q&A : Political Sign of the Times Cartoon answers itself on a newscorp Kids News Page.
The point being...The answer is plain & simple & stares back at us! But we need to spell it out!
Political Cartoons have had a field day of Rolling out Flood Fire Fever Famine as one sad joke!
Catastrophic News Images are almost cartoon like by nature...again all spelling out the answer!
Frozen in Time Fire Sign
Flood Warning Signs torched by Bush Fire.
Bushfire Warning Signs drowned out by Flood.
Emergency Centres are closed due to an Emergency

Droughts & Flooding Rains...we're all on the same page by nature but not in practice...How so!
Institution is a bit slower to change with the times...

Again! Back to basics...tbb said we gotta do this by the book in order to learn from our mistakes!
Australia States are institutions and resist change at all cost but Climate Change can't wait.
All states need to get on the same page like yesterday & at first glance seem to be ready...or are they?

AFAC : National Council for Fire & Emergency Services (So who's on board with that?)

1990 Qld / 1998 WA / 2005 SA ( Legislated as united Fire & Emergency coordinated Services)

Vic / NSW / Tas / ACT / NT Fire & Rescue + Emergency Service (Legislated as Separate mop up units)

Coordinated State or National or International ADF or Policing intervention is delayed by default.
Some could rightly argue it invites the BOM app to stick it together with a band aid solution.

tbb is not saying one hero outfit is better than another...victims are driving this policy change!
Again! We need to spell out the way it is to let the Question answer itself as it is now clearly doing!

Signs are pointing to NSW being most at risk but resistant to change...Are NSW delaying BOM?
Again! To answer this...we must stick to the timeline of events & not jump to conclusions!

21st June BOM Downgrade La Nina Event to WATCH ....+ Forecast 2022 La Nina Return
16th Aug ENSO call La Nina Event ( Craig Questions why there is BOM delay) Good Question!

[factcheck] Well on the very same day...something equally important happened in NSW?
16th Aug 2022 NSW Major Flooding Report is tabled in Parliament!,-mick-fuller,...

Q: Did NSW Govt instruct BOM to hold their Fire by delaying call to prepare a Policing upgrade
Recent Fire & now Flood Report findings (Demand) United Police / BOM Powers + Buy backs

We need to return to the Start Theme of Fire Flood Fever Famine as one message.
Answer : Universal Flood / Fire proof Disaster Sign { Welcome to Hell Hole of the Pacific }.

Developers slipped their Mayors brown paper bags to blow up Shark Towers...
Glow in the Dark [ End of The World Signs ] are going the way of iconic Shark Tower Views!
Oldschool caring, honesty & commonsense don't cut it in Tree/Sea Change Land Shark territory!
{ Welcome to Pleasantville no Climate Change disaster here...enjoy yer recovery! } All Sounds Nice!

2018 Latest BOM FDR ( Is already obsolete ) All new signs are being removed...Waste of Money!
Low-Moderate > High > Very High > Severe > Extreme > Catastrophic (Code Red) > [Sign is Toast]


31st Aug 2022 AFAC > BOM app [ Australian Fire Rating System ]

Signs are being replaced for Essential Digital Emergency Alerts

How effective are apps or digital messaging before or during Climate Catastrophes?
At risk Clients must subscribe to o/s Political Donor [f] Cartels or forgo last spot on the VIP Ark!

What about as next week's record disaster unfolds?
1,400 Telco Towers will melt in an Aussie Bush Fire
2,000 km Digital Roadside [ Biblical Hydraglyphs ] are circled by sharks
150,000 will lose Telco BOM app in Aussie Floods
100,000 will lose Power to charge any BOM app in Aussie Floods
Most at risk can't Vax in a Pandemic or Vote in Election or feed or drink or find clothes.
Signs are underwater or on fire + apps are off line during next & every new Disaster...Next Question?

But a BOM app is still favoured by Big Tech & Developers bankrolling Govts for Data Mining...durr!

SEOCON start implementing recommendations immediately > Police Dept Commissioner with BOM.
Talk of amalgamating Rural Fire & SES ruffled some feathers! ( CSIRO > Sea Temp got left out! )
6th Sept BOM Weather app Wotz New *Fire Ratings (Tick!) *Flood Watch (Tick!) *Location (Tick!)
Apple / BOM > Flood / Fire Rating app ready + Commissioner Gordon BOM phone is ready.
BOM is ready! Sir! { 4.5 Stars }

13th Sept BOM call La Nina Event ( We can consider Police & BOM have had a Pizza & beer!)

SOE report was delayed 6 months from [L] > ALP
New Fed Govt have also delayed Covid Vax Review + Lowest Test'n'Vax > Weekly [+] Reports
Vic Govt haven't tabled Mid Year docs & won't meet Nov Election deadline.

Plenty more delays ahead...
Wash Up NSW reports
15th Sept *Southern Cross University Report into NSW Flood Rort...
Digs deeper...suggests people are being denied Pay Outs until delayed CSIRO May 2024 report!

16th Sept *NSW Police will recoup money @ Flood Signs Fines (Road Closed)
13-16th Sept : $100m ( $44.3m Feds + $15m State > Nth NSW Primary Producers Flood Grant)
Norco $34.7m S'shine Sugar $ 12.7m Nth Coast Petroleum $ 4m Williams $ 3.7m Multitask $3.3m

No tricks there...Happy to share...crew can suss out the BOM delay in their own way!

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Craig Tuesday, 20 Sep 2022 at 3:49pm

This is interesting..

Basically there has been cooling observed in the south-east Pacific and south-west Indian Ocean for the years 1979-2020, but this study shows that none of the Global Climate Model Ensembles could forecast it.

They did pick up the warming hot spots in the Tasman Sea and north-west Pacific as well as the Atlantic, but throughout the Pacific, there's been a bias towards El Niño for whatever reason, when the opposite has been seen.

With the warming climate we've actually seen a quasi La Niña setup with warming in the west and cooling to the east.

"Observed trends (per 41 yr) in annual-mean (a) sea-surface temperature (SST) and (b) sea-level pressure (SLP) over 1979–2020 from Extended
Reconstructed SST data set v5 (ERSSTv5) (Huang et al., 2017) and the ERA5 reanalysis (Hersbach et al., 2020), respectively. Modeled trends in (c) SST and (d) SLP
over 1979–2020, from the multi-model mean of simulations with 16 climate model large ensembles (LEs) (Table 1). The SST trends in each LE have been rescaled
such that their global mean matches that in ERSSTv5. Observed trends in (e) SST and (f) SLP over 1979–2020, expressed in ensemble standard deviations away from
the multi-model mean"

More here:

Will read it in full when I get a chance.

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dawnperiscope Thursday, 22 Sep 2022 at 8:42pm

Any merit in considering the contribution from melting ice?

Craig's picture
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Craig Thursday, 22 Sep 2022 at 9:01pm

Yep, one of the hypothesis.

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dawnperiscope Friday, 23 Sep 2022 at 7:32am

Interesting. Do you have any links to research / discussion on the topic that you could share?

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Craig Tuesday, 27 Sep 2022 at 8:08am

This is from the parper mentioned above.

"Specifying observed extratropical winds or adding Antarctic meltwater forcing to a climate model both shift the SST trend pattern closer to observations (Dong et al., 2022), but discrepancies in winds or meltwater forcing could result from a biased/missing forced response or from multi-decadal variability, so the ultimate cause of the observed Southern Ocean cooling trend remains an open question."

So it's still being researched, investigated.

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dawnperiscope Tuesday, 27 Sep 2022 at 9:23pm

Thanks Craig. Appreciate your effort to dig that up.
Due the shape of the continents it seems to make sense that that the meltwater would get pushed up the coast of south america at depth and contribute to the upwelling.

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mowgli Thursday, 22 Sep 2022 at 12:21pm

TBB... "To answer this...we must stick to the timeline of events & not jump to conclusions!" - unless I'm mistake, seems you might be. A series of events/outcomes don't tell you anything about causality or intention on their own.

Where'd you hear that insurers are placing embargos on new policies in response to the BOM's La Nina proclamation? Looks like you said something like that in your first post under this article. I work for well-known insurer, and such an embargo would be news to me and many others in our sector. Embargos are put in place for impending events (typically 48 hours before they "hit"). Implementing an embargo for La Nina has zero logic to it. It's a regional climate mode that describes a set of underlying conditions that last for multiple months, it's not a hazard event in and of itself, and it has no discrete location but rather applies to a general area of the planet.

The BOM is not intentionally driving any of this Federal, State or Local govt. Those entities have realised that they can share any blame (mostly blame, rarely sharing praise) with the BOM. This tactic is a means to deflect voter backlash and any potential future liability claims.

Having been involved in many sectors, it still bemuses me how much people underestimate the level of competence in some areas (e.g. the public service) and overestimate the level of competence (e.g. presence of large-scale multi-agency conspiracies).

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truebluebasher Saturday, 24 Sep 2022 at 11:55am

Insurance Council declaration { 2022 La Nina Flood Catastrophe } = Immediate 2.5 - 4% Stock falls.

Background Research Article.."Uninsurable Nation"

* Past 20 years 10,000 Sydney Harbours of Ice melted to slow the Large Atlantic Current.
Should Northern ice melt continue it would render the collapse of the Conveyor Belt
Resulting in default Oz La Nina Flood Crisis.

Global Insurance underwriters are losing money in Oz & are already beyond Capacity.
eg: IAG Insurance 'underestimated' 10/13 years Catastrophe Cover
2022 : (E/C La Nina Floods) Allowance $765m (IAG Reality = $1.11b)
Suncorp drew closer but are increasing premiums 10% highest since last SEQ 10 year La Nina Mop up!

DAE : 1/25 Aussie Properties uninsurable by 2030 due to Climate Change...(Qld 6.5% or 200k)
Coincidentally the same number of record 2022 La Nina Flood Claims
Should or when a Perfect Cyclone hit Goldie Hi-Rises it would smash Disaster Record > $20b damages
Q is posed : " Should Govts underwrite Climate Insurance the same as Banks / Oil / Big Pharma?"

Rapidly Declining Oz insurance capacity would weigh heavily on "Govt BOM calls of imminent threat"
Typical punter is witnessing Govt BOM fast colliding with Bio Security State of Emergency...(Embargo)

Timeline ( reference : Date Stamp )
16th Aug ENSO call La Nina
18th Aug (Source ) News Insurance Article
[ Triple La Nina could result in insurance embargoes for Flood Cover ]
Innocent imminent shot over the Bow should BOM be hoisting their "La Nina Alert Flag"
No need to be an expert to see hoisting the "La Nina Flag" would raise o/s Under Insurance Premiums!
Meaning Govt would need to stoke up more payouts by default with any BOM La Nina Call = (Delay!)

News article implies when BOM La Nina Watch switches to Alert it triggers Embargo on flood risk policy!
(Likelyhood of the Weather Event returning is 3x the normal risk!)
EMB already implemented embargoes after recent La Nina event 2022 SEQ floods.
"Because flood was occurring or "Imminent" > Insurance do not typically cover for "likely events"
EBM : Restrictions on insurance was "Normal Practice" customers can also be subjected to a "no claims period" which may leave them unprotected in the event of a incident!

BOM : "Many East Coast Aussies know Soil's Wet, Rivers are high, Dams are Full + Above Avg rainfall coming, there is an (elevated risk of flooding across the East of the Country)!"
Note No mention of rISING seas & choked up Bars + Capacity GC Dredging on old price contracts?
tbb & everyone is under playing La Nina...rarely do any come close to monumental Crisis scale!
La Nina + IOD resulted in "Record" 2010 SEQ floods > 2022/23 being for a 2nd consecutive year!

PS: The current record timeline keeps true but ever changes, growing more shocking by the day!
Policy holders, Insurers, underwriters, BOM & Govt are swept up in a larger than life La Nina Crisis.
Simply for the same reason Govt wish to ignore the Pandemic away...Good luck with that!

Should tbb wish to trigger panic...that's pretty easy...(Try this!)
Oz Peak La Nina + Peak Pandemic rise as one...but no one dares combine them in one sentence...Oopsie!
Will BOM Pointer declare that a Peak La Nina Pandemic is imminent in coming season?
Would hardly shock any if that was the latest addition for the premium VIP BOM app.

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Craig Tuesday, 27 Sep 2022 at 8:06am

We've got a significant burst of stronger than normal trade-winds forecast over the coming week across the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

This will strengthen the current Niña signal.

Blue = stronger than normal east winds, purple = much stronger than normal east winds. Time runs from top to bottom, with the forecast for the coming week falling below the black line.