Tropical rainfall and SST outlook: November 2015 to January 2016

The dynamical models are all in agreement to forecast continuing strong El Niño conditions for the November 2015 – January 2016 period. As a consequence most regions of the southwest Pacific usually affected by the South Pacific Convergence Zone are forecast to experience a drier than normal November 2015 – January 2016 season.

Below normal rainfall is forecast for the Austral Islands, New Caledonia, Wallis & Futuna, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia, the southern Cook Islands, Niue and Tonga. Normal or below normal rainfall is forecast for the Society Islands. Near normal rainfall is expected for Pitcairn Island. Normal or above normal rainfall is forecast for the Northern Cook Islands and the Marquesas. Above normal rainfall is forecast for Eastern Kiribati, Western Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tokelau.

The global model ensemble forecast for SSTs indicates further intensification of the higher than normal SSTs present in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. The region of cooler than normal SSTs currently observed in the western Pacific is also forecast to intensify. Above normal SSTs are forecast for western Kiribati and eastern Kiribati. Normal or above normal SSTs are forecast for the Marquesas, the Northern Cook Islands, Tokelau and Tuvalu. Near normal SSTs are forecast for the Federated States of Micronesia and the Tuamotu archipelago. Normal or below normal SSTs are forecast for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Wallis & Futuna, Samoa, Niue, the Society Islands, the Austral Islands and Pitcairn Island. Below normal SSTs are forecast for Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and the Southern Cook Islands.

The confidence for the rainfall outlooks is moderate to high. The average region-wide hit rate for rainfall forecasts issued for the November – January season is about 65%, two points higher than the average for all months combined. The confidence for the SST forecasts is also moderate to high.

The figure on the bottom right presents the last six months rainfall anomalies for each Island group alongside the latest ICU rainfall forecast for the November 2015 - January 2016 period.

The past 6 months rainfall anomalies are based on the near-real-time TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission) merged satellite product available from The data has been downloaded and available on the link below:

TRMM rainfall anomalies

For each Island group, the monthly value is derived from the average of all grid-points (or "pixels") in the TRMM Dataset that intersect a coastline, to ensure that the values correspond as closely as possible to rainfall on land, and excluding rainfall falling on ocean surfaces.

The climatology used has been established over the 2001 – 2012 period. The categories ("Well-below", "Below", etc) are determined according to the percentage of the normal rainfall for that month. The thresholds are indicated in the colorbar at the bottom: to give an example, "Well-below" normal rainfall means the rainfall for that month was under 40 % of the normal rainfall, "Below" normal rainfall means that between 40 and 80 % of normal rainfall was received, etc.


Please note that, while we use the same color-scheme for the past rainfall anomalies and the ICU forecast, the type of information presented is different. In the case of the past 6 months, actual rainfall has been estimated by satellite, and the categories are well-defined by monthly estimated rainfall compared to the long-term mean. The ICU forecast, on the other hand, is probabilistic: it indicates the likelihood (percentage chance) of rainfall being at, above, or below normal for the season as a whole. When the percentage chances in two categories are close to each other, we indicate both categories: for example if the forecast is for 35 % chance of receiving below rainfall, and 40 % chance of normal rainfall, the outcome is "Normal or below".

Rainfall anomaly outlook map for November 2015 – January 2015
SST anomaly outlook map for November 2015 – January 2015
NOTE: Rainfall and sea surface temperature estimates for Pacific Islands for the next three months are given in the tables below. The tercile probabilities (e.g., 20:30:50) are derived from the averages of several global climate models. They correspond to the odds of the observed rainfall or sea surface temperatures being in the lowest one third of the distribution, the middle one third, or the highest one third of the distribution. For the long term average, it is equally likely (33% chance) that conditions in any of the three terciles will occur. *If conditions are climatology, we expect an equal chance of the rainfall being in any tercile.
The last six months rainfall anomalies for each Island group alongside the latest ICU rainfall forecast for the November 2015-January 2016 period.