Pacific climate variability is largely understood based on El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the North Pacific focused Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) and/or the whole of Pacific region interdecadal Pacific oscillation – which respectively represent the dominant modes of interannual and decadal climate variability. However, the role of the South Pacific, including atmospheric drivers and cross-scale interactions between interannual and decadal climate variability, has received considerably less attention. Here we propose a new paradigm for South Pacific climate variability whereby the Pacific-South American (PSA) mode, characterised by two mid-tropospheric modes (PSA1 and PSA2), provides coherent noise forcing that acts to excite multiple spatiotemporal scales of oceanic responses in the upper South Pacific Ocean ranging from seasonal to decadal. While PSA1 has long been recognised as highly correlated with ENSO, we find that PSA2 is critically important in generating a sea surface temperature (SST) quadrupole pattern in the extratropical South Pacific. This sets up a precursor that optimally determines the predictability and evolution of SST 9 months in advance of the peak phases of both the leading South Pacific SST mode and ENSO. Our results show that the atmospheric PSA mode is the key driver of oceanic variability in the South Pacific subtropics.