Changing Weather Patterns

Australia’s weather is influenced by many climate drivers. Specifically, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle has a strong influence on weather patterns on the East Coast of the country.

La Niña, one of three phases in the cycle, typically brings increased rainfall, cooler daytime temperatures, decreased frost risk, greater tropical cyclone numbers, and earlier monsoon onset. La Niña occurs when equatorial trade winds become stronger, changing ocean surface currents and drawing cooler deep water up from below. The warming of ocean temperatures in the western Pacific means the area becomes more favourable for rising air, cloud development, and rainfall. This cooler-than and wetter-than event generally lasts for several months in a row, and occurs every two to seven years.

El Niño, the opposite phase of La Niña, typically means reduced rainfall, warmer temperatures, increased frost, reduced tropical cyclone numbers, later monsoon onset, and increased fire danger. El Niño occurs when sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean become substantially warmer than average, causing a shift in atmospheric circulation. These events are associated with a weakening of trade winds. Cooler water in the western Pacific Ocean has huge implications for rainfall, thus Australia experiences less evaporation, less condensation, and less rain.

The third phase of the ENSO cycle is neutral, whereby Australia is less likely to experience the extreme climate conditions of either La Niña or El Niño.

Neutral La Nina El Nino

Australia experienced three La Niña events in a row between 2020 and 2023. At current, Australia is sitting in the neutral phase of ENSO. However, it has been predicted that the country is in for an El Niño event this Summer.

How does El Niño affect us?

Environmental Impacts
    • Local effects of drought will affect crops grown in geographically concentrated regions
    • Climate induced crop failures (i.e. wheat production)
    • Dam storages shrink and farmers get a smaller water allocation
    • Loss of habitats and food sources for animals, leading to biodiversity decline
    • Smoke and air pollution
    • Ash from fires contaminates beaches, fresh water stores, and water catchments
    • Burned soils can cause excess algae growth and deplete oxygen growth
    • Livestock starvation and death
    • Desertification of dryland areas
 Economic Impacts
    • Drops in GDP growth
    • Food prices likely to rise
    • Imports from other affected regions of the world likely to become more expensive
    • Global energy supplies could suffer as higher temperatures in other parts of the world put a strain on power networks
    • Damage to infrastructure and industries such as tourism
    • Businesses and institutions forced to close doors during excessive levels of air pollution
Social Impacts
    • Physical harm and mental trauma from fire events (evacuation, losing homes, pets, belongings, other sources of livelihoods)
    • Heat = increased anger
    • El Niño induced food availability and affordability issues may lead to conflict and hunger
    • Decreased community / social cohesion in areas affected by fire


Many Australians were affected by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020, an effect of the El Niño event in 2018/2019.


How can we best prepare for an El Niño event?
  • Stay up to date with announcements from the BOM
  • Get fire ready (read more in  post)
  • Conserve water
  • Monitor weather patterns for heatwaves and increased fire risk
  • Install cooling mechanisms to your home
How is Global Care preparing for the fire and drought season?
  • Equipping our disaster response units
  • Educating communities about fire and drought risk
  • Monitoring changing weather patterns

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