“Our findings will help to improve seasonal rainfall forecasts and therefore directly benefit water and agricultural management,” Caroline Ummenhofer, the research team’s leader, said.
National Farmers Federation (NFF) president David Crombie said farmers needed reliable weather forecasts to help them decide what to farm and when to farm it.
“These findings, if verified and supported through scientific review, could be the missing piece in the puzzle for Australia’s farmers and their on-farm decision-making,” he said.
The phenomenon discovered by the researchers, known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), has been in a positive or neutral phase since 1992 – the longest such period since records began in the late 19th century.
According to the study, it indicates that El Nino events do not directly drive drought, as previously thought.
“We needed to move away from historical comparisons of rainfall, to focus on accurate and reliable information on future weather patterns and events,” Mr Crombie said.
The NFF called on the government to invest in the Bureau of Meteorology to make it a world leader in climate predictability and expand the computer models it relies on for seasonal and inter-seasonal forecasting.
“This needs to be plugged into sophisticated and state-of-the-art computer predictive modelling that Australians farmers and everyone else can have confidence in,” Mr Crombie said.
“Such a system would clearly have benefits for agriculture production and regional communities, which is a key driver to Australia’s economic prosperity.
“However, it would also render vital assistance to water catchment authorities and suppliers who service the daily needs of metropolitan Australia.”
The team, co-led by Professor Matthew England from the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, has detailed its findings in a paper which has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Review Letters.
The team includes researchers from CSIRO Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research and the University of Tasmania .