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We’ve all heard the term ‘La Niña’ thrown around these last few years, with round three now upon us. “Three peat” La Niña’s are quite rare, with the most recent ones happening between 1954-57, 1973-76, and 1998-2001. But with the rapid movement in climate change, these rare events can become more common. So what does this all actually mean? And how will it affect this year’s Spring and Summer?
What is La Niña?
La Niña, and its counterpart, El Niño, have a strong influence on the year’s weather for most of the country. It’s part of a natural cycle called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or “ENSO.” It’s a weather pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and a weather circulation called the Walker Circulation. When the circulation is in La Niña, it picks up the warm water near Australia, carries it over the ocean east towards South America where it descends, and the deep cold water from South America is pushed west towards Australia. (An El Niño happens when the circulation is weaker or pushing in the opposite direction.) We can’t prevent these weather phenomena from happening, but our role in climate change does impact the severity and frequency of the events.
La Niña’s Impact on Australia
No two La Niña events end up being exactly the same and how it affects you depends on where in the country you live. But there are some things that typically happen during a La Niña in Australia:
Grab your umbrella, the increased cloudiness and rainfall in the Western Pacific means above-average Spring rainfall in Australia, which can continue into early Summer. This primarily affects the east and north. In January 2021, rainfall across NSW was 41% above the 1961-1990 average*. The chance of widespread flooding increases, especially on the east coast which is usually less affected by La Niña during Winter, but will have wet and flooding Spring and Summers. So ensure you have a plan in place if you live in an area prone to floods.
Cooler v Warmer Temperatures
La Niña’s rainfall and cloud cover reduces average maximum temperatures for those south of the tropics. But north of the tropics, the cloud cover will act like an insulator and bring warmer than average minimum temperatures.
Temperature Extremes Change
During Spring and Summer southern locations like Adelaide and Melbourne are likely to experience less individual days of heat extremes, but can experience an increased frequency of prolonged warm spells. Further north in South New South Wales and North Victoria, the warmer nights mean less frost days than average.
More Tropical Cyclones
La Niña increases the chance of more tropical cyclones, especially in Queensland. Twice as many make landfall than during El Niño years. This means the strong winds, high seas, and heavy rain increases the likelihood of flooding and major damage.
Earlier Monsoon Onset
Because of the extremity of the weather, the monsoon season in tropical Australia is usually brought forward by two weeks. The Northern tropics experience above-average rainfall during the early part of the wet season, but only slightly above-average during the latter part.
What Does La Niña Mean For You?
After the previous years of scorching hot weather, the La Niña had been a welcome change of cooler weather. Some farmers have benefited from the mild La Niña. While too much rain can be bad, the areas that receive just the right amount are welcoming it as rain was desperately needed after the ongoing drought. The beef industry in Queensland benefits the most. They rely on grass to feed their cattle, so a wetter Summer increases pasture growth which in turn increases cattle weight gain.
But these last years have seen some of the wettest weather within the warmer months since The Bureau of Meteorology records began in 1900. The return of La Niña year after year has caused increased flooding. Residents impacted by last Summer’s flooding haven’t had a chance to recover and the possibility of more rain is “very stressful” says one resident in South Lismore.*
Luckily, this phase of La Niña hasn’t been as powerful as the double La Niña that happened during 2010-2012, which caused catastrophic cyclones and flooding. Models are also indicating that this portion of the La Niña will peak in Spring and return to neutral conditions in early 2023.*
For those in WA, and most of the NT and SA, it will be mostly business as usual as the ENSO doesn’t quite reach that far across the country. However, those along the east coast, especially QLD, feel the biggest changes. La Niña brings cooler temperatures, especially in south east places like Melbourne. Heat waves can still happen, but they’re not as extreme.
The rain also means fewer bushfires. After the devastating Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20, the reprieve has been welcome. It doesn’t mean there won’t be any, just that there will be less, bringing relief to those in bushfire prone communities.
What Role Is ACCIONA Playing In Australia To Help This?
La Niña and El Niño events are set to become increasingly more common with the world’s current greenhouse gas emissions. Unless emissions are reduced, we will be dealing with more La Niña caused floods, cyclones, and extreme temperatures. ACCIONA is helping Australia combat climate change by investing in sustainable development, renewable energy infrastructure, and finding solutions to the biggest global challenges.
The Waubra Wind Farm in Victoria was one of the largest wind farms in Australia when it was built in 2009. At 192 MW, the Waubra Wind Farm has been operating for over 12 years and annually produces enough clean energy to power up to 138,000 Aussie homes. ACCIONA Energia has announced its latest project in Queensland - the MacIntyre Wind Farm Precinct, which will be one of the largest wind farms in the Southern Hemisphere at 1,026 MW power generation. This also highlights the immense growth in the industry over the last decade.
ACCIONA Energía has four operating wind farms in Australia and is about to have a fifth. The latest addition is the Mortlake South Wind Farm. Once operational, the project will supply enough green energy to 117,000 homes! The greatest part is that approximately 532,000 tonnes of CO2 from coal-fired power stations will be prevented each year. These renewable energy projects are helping us get closer to a greener, more sustainable future, which in turn, will help to stabilise weather patterns.