Tropical rainfall and SST outlook: December 2015 to February 2016

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

Below normal rainfall is forecast for New Caledonia, southern Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna, the southern Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Niue, Tonga, northern Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia. Normal or below normal rainfall is forecast for the Austral Islands and the Society Islands. Normal or above normal rainfall is forecast for the Marquesas, the Tuamotu archipelago and Pitcairn Island. Above normal rainfall is forecast for Eastern Kiribati, Western Kiribati, the northern Cook Islands, Tuvalu and Tokelau. No clear guidance is available this month for Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

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

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 66%, three 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 December 2015 - February 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 December 2015 – February 2016
SST anomaly outlook map for December 2015 – February 2016
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 December 2015-February 2016 period.