By Claire Krause

A recent article featured in the Canberra Times states that Australians are less likely to believe in climate change when it is raining. There is a misconception in the public’s mind that climate change is synonymous with drought and therefore the large amount of rain that we have been experiencing lately means that climate change is not occurring.

The unusually wet weather the east coast of Australia has been experiencing over the last 12 months or so is caused by a phenomenon known as ‘La Niña’. It is essentially the opposite of El Niño, which in Australia, is associated with drought. La Niña conditions do not mean rain everywhere, so while the east coast of Australia experiences a wet and cool summer, South America is struggling through the worst drought in 50 years. 

During a La Niña event, warm water pools off the east coast of Australia, leading to increased evaporation, and hence, increased rain. Off the west coast of South America however, enhanced upwelling of cool water leads to reduced evaporation and hence, below average rainfall. La Niña is part of the natural cycle of sea surface temperature variability experienced across the Pacific Ocean.

Climate change predictions do not only suggest a warmer and dryer climate, but predict a much more variable climate, with increased instances of both drought and flood as well as more extreme events. Underlying normal climate variability, including La Niña events, is a general warming trend, however, this is not always manifested in the same way in each location.

While Australia experiences the wet and cool summer, South America struggles through drought.

Enhanced rainfall for the east coast of Australia is occurring at the same time as below average rainfall is being experienced in South America. Argentina is currently experiencing its worst drought in 50 years, and crops are beginning to fail in Paraguay, due to a severe lack of rain.

We need to have a holistic view on climate and recognize that rain in Australia means somewhere else will be experiencing drought. Just because Australia is fortunate enough to be receiving plenty of rain at the moment, doesn’t mean that out stance on climate change should change.