The relationship between sea-surface temperature (SST) inter-annual variability at the subtropical and midlatitudes of the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans and its links with the atmospheric circulation in the Southern Hemisphere are investigated over the 1950–1999 period. Exploratory analysis using singular value decomposition and further investigations based on simple indices show that a large part of regional SST variability is common between the southwestern parts of both basins at subtropical and midlatitudes during the austral summer. Interestingly, these areas are also significantly associated with the far southwestern Pacific (Tasman Sea area). The patterns and time series of co-variability between the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans are shown to correspond to SST modes previously described in the literature as ‘subtropical dipoles’, independently for the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Composite analyses show that austral summers characterized by simultaneous warm (and to a lesser extent cold) SST anomalies in the southwestern (northern) part of both southern oceans are related to atmospheric anomalies mainly involving a southward shift and a strengthening of the subtropical high-pressure systems over both basins. These anomalies are embedded in a hemispheric signal associating two cores of positive pressure anomalies within the South Pacific anticyclone. The global picture appears to have a wave number 4 spatial structure. The associated low-level wind and latent heat-flux anomalies and the lags between atmospheric variables and SST anomalies are consistent with an atmospheric forcing on the ocean. Potential links of these patterns with large-scale modes of climate variability in the Southern Hemisphere are discussed. Copyright © 2003 Royal Meteorological Society.