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Byron Shire
September 29, 2022

La Nina coming again as world careens towards uncharted climate destruction

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The Tweed River at Chinderah during the February-March 2022 flood. Photo supplied.

We’ve experienced a number of difficult years on the Northern Rivers and the east coast of Australia as we’ve lurched from crippling drought and bushfires to ‘unprecedented’ destruction from flooding. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has now confirmed that we are heading into a third year of La Niña at the same time as multi-organisation report United in Science 2022 has stated that, ‘Without ambitious action, the physical and socioeconomic impacts of climate change will be devastating’.

Landslip on Tyalgum Road. Photo from The Select Committee on the response to Major Flooding across NSW in 2022.

Another La Niña

For the third year in a row the east coast of Australia, including the Northern Rivers, will experience a La Niña year.

The Bureau of Meteorology has declared ‘a La Niña event is underway in the Pacific Ocean and communities in eastern Australia should be prepared for above-average rainfall over spring and early summer’. 

‘Australia’s climate has warmed by around 1.47 °C for the 1910–2020 period. Southern Australia has seen a reduction of 10–20% in cool season (April–October) rainfall in recent decades. There has also been a trend towards a greater proportion of rainfall from high intensity short duration rainfall events, especially across northern Australia,’ states the Bom

Dr Andrew Watkins, BOMs head of long-range forecasts said, ‘During La Niña events, waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean are cooler than normal, and waters in the western tropical Pacific Ocean warmer than normal. This causes changes in wind, cloud and pressure patterns over the Pacific. When this change in the atmosphere combines with changes in ocean temperature, it can influence global weather patterns and climate, including increasing rainfall over large parts of Australia.’

Models have forecast this La Niña will be weak to moderate in strength, likely to peak during spring and ease during summer.

‘October to December rainfall is likely to be above median for the eastern half of Australia, but below median for parts of Western Australia and part of western Tasmania,’ states the BOM.

‘La Niña is not the only driver influencing this wet outlook. To our west, a significant negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) event is underway. We expect the IOD influence will reduce in late spring or early summer,’ Dr Watkins said.

‘The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) is also in a positive phase, and likely to remain positive into summer. Positive SAM during summer pushes weather systems south, which increases the chance of rain in New South Wales, eastern Victoria and southern parts of Queensland,’ he said.

The BOM is reminding people that with the catchments already wet, the flood risk remains, particularly for eastern Australia.

‘There is a 93% probability that at least one year in the next five will be warmer than the warmest year on record, 2016, and that the mean temperature for 2022–2026 will be higher than that of the last five years,’ states the United in Science report.

‘Uncharted territory of destruction’

The last seven years have been the warmest on record and fossil fuel emission rates are now above pre-pandemic levels after a temporary drop due to lockdowns. The United in Science report states that, ‘emissions reduction pledges for 2030 need to be seven times higher to be in line with the 1.5 °C goal’.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that ‘This year’s United in Science report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted territory of destruction. Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse’.

‘Floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with alarming frequency. Heatwaves in Europe. Colossal floods in Pakistan. Prolonged and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa and the United States. There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters. They are the price of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction,’ he said.

The report highlights the immediate need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and bringing ‘aspirations’ inline with ‘reality’.

‘Collectively, countries are falling short of meeting their new or updated pledges with current policies,’ states the report summary. 

Fire fighters battling flames on the Woombah to Iluka road in November 2019 during the Black Summer fires. Photo Ewan Willis.

‘The number of weather, climate and water-related disasters has increased by a factor of five over the past 50 years, causing US$ 202 million in losses daily.

‘As attribution science continues to improve, evidence of the link between human-induced climate change and observed extremes, such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation and tropical cyclones, has strengthened.’

The Mullumbimby Ambulance station during the Feb/March floods. Photo supplied

The reports is clear that billions of people are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as we have seen here with droughts, the Black Summer fires and the recent floods that local Northern Rivers are still trying to recover from. 

‘The science is clear – urgent action is needed to mitigate emissions and adapt to our changing climate,’ says the report. 

♦ The United in Science 2022 report was compiled by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) under the direction of the United Nations Secretary-General to bring together the latest climate science-related updates from key global partner organisations – WMO, Global Carbon Project (GCP), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Met Office (United Kingdom), Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN), UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), World Climate Research Programme (WCRP, jointly sponsored by WMO, IOC-UNESCO and the International Science Council (ISC)) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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  1. How normal is it for sea surface temperatures adjacent to central eastern Australia to be so much lower than normal when a La Nina is called? What might this mean?

  2. Its not that uncommon (on the scale of earth time) to have 3 x la ninas in a row, it happened around the 1954 floods and the 1974 floods, its got absolutely nothing to do with climate change.

    yes climate change is a massive issue but this is a very poorly written article that is seemingly trying to connect a third la nina event in a row with climate change.

    your actually making things worse in terms of people listening to the science with this kind of article that is trying to generate new, unscientific connections between weather events and climate change ‘slaps head on head’.

    • ‘Human induced climate change amplifies the impacts of naturally occurring events like La Niña and is increasingly influencing our weather patterns, in particular through more intense heat and drought and the associated risk of wildfires – as well as record-breaking deluges of rainfall and flooding,’ said World Meteoroligical Association Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

      • you don’t understand my point, the fact that there is a 3rd la nina in a row is not caused by climate change, which is clearly the directive of the article, its very poorly written.

    • Dams help little, unless they are kept half full. The recent deluges in Sydney saw about twice the amount of water falling in their catchment than Waragamba dam holds, and if a dam is kept half full there is no certainty that there wont be a drought. Desal plants will be the only secure water sources


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