Australia is heading towards generally drier and warmer than normal conditions with an El Niņo event now looking likely, but don't shout about drought yet.
During the past month climate indicators have been giving strong indications that El Niņo will return during late winter or early spring.
For many people living on the east coast, these drier conditions will be happily welcomed. Brisbane has had its wettest start to the year in more than a decade, while many Sydneysiders were disappointed by the cold and damp summer. It may even feel like summer begins early as there are indications that spring will be warmer than average.
Farmers usually see the prospect of an El Niņo event as bad news. Drought is more likely during El Niņo events, however it is too early to tell whether this one will trigger widespread drought conditions. Most of eastern Australia has had above average rainfall this year, meaning that high soil moisture will keep most areas drought free for a while.
There are a number of indications that El Niņo is likely to return. In the past month sea surface temperatures have increased by around 0.4 degrees in the central and eastern parts of the Pacific Ocean (towards South America). Another indicator is that the easterly trade winds have remained weaker than normal.
During an El Niņo event seas are cooler near Australia's east coast and air pressure is generally higher. This difference in atmospheric pressure results in weaker easterly trade winds across the tropical Pacific, with less moisture being driven over eastern parts of the nation.
© Weatherzone 2012
13:39 EST With 28mm already recorded in the rain gauge this month, Alice Springs is having its wettest May since 2004.