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La Nina’s over but don’t put your umbrella away just yet

Benedict Brook, June 23, 2022 7:00PM Kids News

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Eloise Bekker, 2, and sister Felicity, 4, didn’t let the rain spoil their outing in the Sydney suburb of Bondi back in February when the La Nina weather driver brought drenching rain to much of Australia. Picture: Julian Andrews media_cameraEloise Bekker, 2, and sister Felicity, 4, didn’t let the rain spoil their outing in the Sydney suburb of Bondi back in February when the La Nina weather driver brought drenching rain to much of Australia. Picture: Julian Andrews

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The La Nina climate driver*, which has been the key factor behind much of Australia’s weather woes over the past two years, has finally ended.

But the Bureau of Meteorology has warned the troublesome system has a sting left in its tail.

Not only could it remain wetter than average despite La Nina’s absence, but there are strong indications that it will be back in a few months, bringing more drenching rain.

If La Nina does bubble up again in spring, it will be the third year in a row it’s made an appearance. That is very rare.

“Back-to-back La Ninas are not uncommon,” said the Bureau of Meteorology’s head of long-range forecasting, Dr Andrew Watkins. “In fact we get them about half the time since 1900.

“But a three-year La Nina is less common and we’ve only seen that three times since the middle of the last century.”

On Tuesday, the bureau confirmed the 2021-22 La Nina had finally dissipated*, months after it was due to weaken.

Lismore Residents Evacuate As Major Flood Warnings Issued Across NSW Northern Rivers media_cameraThe La Nina weather driver brought flooding rain to Australia earlier this year, including in the northern NSW town of Lismore. Picture: Getty Images

The atmospheric* phenomenon* caused chaos on the east coast of Australia. Flooding in northern NSW and southeast Queensland caused at least $4.3 billion in damage, figures by the Insurance Council show. But the actual figure might be much higher.

How does La Nina work?
La Nina is one extreme of the climate driver known as the El Nino – Southern Oscillation, or ENSO.

During a La Nina phase, cool waters from the depths of the Pacific Ocean are hauled up to the surface in the central and eastern equatorial region*.

Stronger winds from east to west then push warmer seas closer to Australia. That aids in the creation of more clouds and moisture, and windier conditions for the continent.

During an El Nino phase that moisture heads towards the Americas, leaving Australia drier.

According to the bureau’s definition, the ENSO has just entered a neutral phase – so neither La Nina or El Nino. That’s likely to persist throughout winter.

Camden Floods media_cameraA boat was the easiest way to get around when the floods came to Camden in NSW in March 2022. Picture: Monique Harmer

However, Australia remains on La Nina “watch”, meaning it won’t take much for the system to kick back in again.

“A La Nina watch does not change the outlook of above average rainfall for most of Australia over coming months,” Dr Watkins said.

“The Bureau’s long-range outlook remains wetter-than-average, consistent with model outlooks from other global forecast centres.”

That’s due to the waters around Australia remaining stubbornly warm, particularly in the north and east, and a developing negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). An Indian Ocean Dipole is a climate cycle which describes the changing ocean surface temperatures between the western Indian Ocean and the eastern Indian Ocean.

A negative IOD can bring more moisture Australia’s way during the colder months.

La Niña is officially over. Picture: Sky News media_cameraLa Nina is officially over but this image show sea surface areas around Australia remain stubbornly high. Picture: Sky News

The US National Weather Service has also forecast a triple La Nina.

Earlier this month, it said there was an almost 60 per cent chance of a strengthening La Nina in late 2022.

That should lead to less rain for the US, particularly in the west, increasing the chance of heatwaves and bushfires.

But for Australia, if La Nina III does come to pass, we can expect more rain and even more flooding, just like we have had for the past two years.

GLOSSARY

  • driver: something that makes other things progress
  • dissipated: disappeared gradually
  • atmospheric: to do with the air or atmosphere of the Earth
  • phenomenon: something that exists and can be seen, felt or tasted, especially something unusual or interesting
  • equatorial region: a region of the Earth surrounding the equator

EXTRA READING

Rain could last until August

School’s out as Qld floods cause havoc

Nature and climate change make a destructive mix

Australia set for colder, wetter than average winter

QUICK QUIZ

  1. If La Nina bubbles up again in spring, who many years in a row will it have occurred?
  2. Who does Dr Andrew Watkins work for?
  3. How much damage does the Insurance Council estimate the floods caused in northern NSW and southeast Queensland?
  4. While La Nina makes Australia wetter, what does El Nina do to the weather in Australia?
  5. What phase has the ENSO just entered?

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Farewell La Nina
Design a special farewell card for La Nina. You must include a short poem or words about La Nina inside the card

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Geography, Visual Communication Design

2. Extension
Create a page in a textbook for other kids that will help them to understand how the La Nina weather pattern works. The only rule: you are not allowed to use any words.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Geography

VCOP ACTIVITY
La Nina wants to be heard
Imagine if La Nina was more than a weather system, more like an earth spirit or god, a bit like Te Fiti in Moana.

Why is La Nina so angry and causing so much weather chaos? How can we fix it?

Write a short story about a quest to right a wrong and make La Nina happy again.

You can choose to be the main character in the story or someone else.

Remember to outline the problem and then the quest is to create the solution.

Use your VCOP skills to grab the audience’s attention.

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