Tropical rainfall and SST outlook: January to March 2016

The dynamical models are all in agreement to forecast continuing strong El Niño conditions for the January – March 2016 period, and the SPCZ is forecast to be displaced east of its normal position, leading to  many island groups in the southwest Pacific forecast to experience drier than normal conditions over the forecast period (January – March 2016).

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

As El Niño is forecast to continue over the January – March 2016 period, the large positive Sea Surface Temperature (SST) anomalies currently present in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific are expected to persist over the next three months. 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, the Marquesas and the northern Cook Islands. Normal or above normal SSTs are forecast for New Caledonia, the Society Islands, Tokelau, Tuvalu and the Tuamotu archipelago. Normal or below normal SSTs are forecast for the southern Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Pitcairn and Tonga. Near normal SSTs are expected for the remaining Pacific Island groups. The confidence for the rainfall outlooks is moderate to high. The average region-wide hit rate for rainfall forecasts issued for the January – March season is about 67%, four 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 January-March 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 http://trmm.gsfc.nasa.gov. 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.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

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 January-March 2016
SST anomaly outlook map for January-March 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 January-March 2016 period.