Drought breaks all-time records out in far west

Long dry in Broken Hill worst in living memory, mass emu deaths


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Dry sowing near Wagga Wagga. Photo by Stephen Burns.

Dry sowing near Wagga Wagga. Photo by Stephen Burns.

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Not much sign of comfort in long-term forecast

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It’s been few and far between and the lack of it has broken all-time records, especially in western NSW. That’s rain we’re talking about of course.

NSW in general has had its driest start to a year in 30 years, but in some areas of NSW, it’s the driest it’s ever been. That’s despite some solid rain in the last week in parts of central NSW and in the far north of the Northern Tablelands.

Broken Hill collected just 18.2mm of rain during the last six months, which makes this their driest first half of a year in records dating back to the late 1800s, according to Weatherzone.

“Further east, Cobar hasn't fared much better. The Cobar Meteorological Office's 24.4mm during the first half of 2018 was the town's lowest January to June total since 1902 and the second lowest on record,” Weatherzone’s Ben Domensino said. 

“Parts of western NSW just had their driest first half of a year on record, with the prospect of El Nino still looming in the months ahead. Most of western NSW received less than half of its average rainfall during the first half of 2018 and every month since January has been drier than usual for the state as a whole.

“While the dry spell is affecting all inland districts across the state, some of the most notable rainfall deficiencies during the last six months have occurred in the far west.”

Broken Hill resident Mark Hutton, from the Darling River Action Group, said he went to Menindee Lakes last weekend and there was a dead emu every 20 metres by the banks of the lake. “They can get water, but there’s just no feed,” he said. “We are in drought seven years out of 10 but this has been very bad. We have had virtually no rain all year. It’s taking its toll on the wildlife. There’s hundreds of dead emus, dead pelicans and other birds all around the Lake system. It’s terrible to see.”

Broken Hill's Mark Hutton saw hundreds of dead emus by the banks of Menindee Lakes last weekend because of the drought and no winter feed.

Broken Hill's Mark Hutton saw hundreds of dead emus by the banks of Menindee Lakes last weekend because of the drought and no winter feed.

Water supply from the Lakes to Broken Hill was still okay for quality, but it would become a concern next year if there were no major flows down the Darling. “We are overdue for a big flow,” Mr Hutton said.

The rainfall anomalies paint a disturbing picture of the length of the dry spell and how far most districts are behind in their normal rainfall. In some areas close to Sydney and in the Illawarra the anomaly  is up to 800mm. (see map provided). 

The Bureau of Meteorology has just published data for the last financial year and it is not a pretty picture.

“Serious to severe rainfall deficiencies (lowest 10 per cent and 5pc of historical observations) for the 12 months since July 2017 cover many areas across northern New South Wales into southern and central Queensland, parts of central and eastern South Australia, and coastal parts of East Gippsland,” the BOM said. “With the exception of East Gippsland, most of those regions recorded less than 60pc of their average rainfall during the 2017–18 financial year.

“Australia's mean daily maximum temperature for the 2017–18 financial year was the warmest on record, with the entire country having mean maximum temperatures that were above average. It was 1.46 °C above the average over the 1961–90 baseline period, and more than 0.1 °C warmer than the previous financial year record (2015–16).”

Rainfall anomalies in NSW run into hundreds of millimetres in many parts of the state in the last year. Graph courtesy of BOM.

Rainfall anomalies in NSW run into hundreds of millimetres in many parts of the state in the last year. Graph courtesy of BOM.

The Bureau's latest outlook has pinpointed a dry three months ahead, and that  five out of eight computer models predict that El Nino thresholds could be reached or exceeded during the upcoming spring.

The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) was not going to offer any relief as well as it was in a neutral phase. 

A positive phase of the IOD can cause below average rainfall and above average temperatures in NSW during winter and spring, while the opposite is true for the negative IOD phase.

Currently, all six of the climate models surveyed by the bureau indicate that neutral IOD conditions should persist during the rest of winter and spring. A neutral IOD causes little change to Australia's climate.

Meanwhile, the Department of Primary Industries’ droughthub map gives a sorry sight on how bad things are despite the recent rainfall events, with the majority of the state either in drought or on drought watch. There is only 0.1 per cent of NSW that is declared “non-drought” on the DPI’s droughthub map.

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