Australia & New Zealand: Water deficits forecast in VIC, NSW, TAS, & New Caledonia

26 June 2018

THE BIG PICTURE
The 12-month forecast (below) shows moderate water deficits – punctuated by pockets of greater severity – covering much of southeastern Australia, Northern Territory, and Australia’s southwestern tip. Areas of intense deficit include: Northern Territory along the Gulf of Carpentaria; Darwin and the Daly River region; northwestern South Australia leading across the border into Northern Territory; and western Tasmania and the Derwent Estuary in the southeast.

Severe deficits are expected in: the Ord River Basin in Western Australia; dotted along Australia’s southeastern shore; and parts of the upper Murray-Darling Basin.

Some surplus conditions are expected around the Mackenzie River in eastern Queensland (QLD) and in the Atherton Tablelands of northern QLD.

Conditions in New Zealand are expected to be relatively normal, with some pockets of deficit north of Auckland and around Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, and severe surplus conditions near Christchurch. Moderate to extreme deficits are forecast for New Caledonia.

FORECAST BREAKDOWN
The 3-month maps (below) show the evolving conditions in greater detail.

As is apparent in the map series, the forecast indicates that the exceptional deficits which have dominated a vast stretch of Australia in prior months will nearly disappear. From June through August moderate deficits – punctuated by pockets of more intense deficits – are expected across a large portion of the east and southeast including the Murray-Darling Basin, scattered across the north, and in the southwest tip of the country. Deficits are expected to be intense in Tasmania, in pockets along the southeast coast from Brisbane past Melbourne, in the southwest from Busselton to Albany, in Darwin and the Daly River region of Northern Territory (NT), along the NT shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and near Cairns in Queensland (QLD).

Moderate to exceptional surpluses are forecast in southwest Kimberley region of Western Australia (WA), but conditions of both surplus and deficit are also forecast as transitions occur. Likewise, both deficits and surpluses are forecast for the Atherton Tablelands and Mackenzie River regions of QLD.

In New Zealand, primarily moderate deficits are forecast for southern South Island and northern North Island, and surpluses along the eastern shores from Christchurch north. Deficits in New Caledonia will downgrade slightly but remain severe to extreme.

From September through November deficits will remain intense near Darwin and the Daly River region, but will shrink and moderate elsewhere across the north as well as in the east and southeast. Deficits in the southwest tip of the country will downgrade, but severe deficits are forecast along the Blackwood River and extreme deficits near Albany. Intense deficits will continue to emerge in Tasmania, particularly in the south and the Derwent Estuary.  Surpluses of varying severity will re-emerge in the Atherton Tablelands and near the Mackenzie River in QLD, and will spread in southwest Kimberley, WA. Moderate deficits will increase in New Zealand, and moderate to severe deficits will persist in New Caledonia.

The forecast for the final months – December through February – indicates that aforementioned regions of deficit will moderate overall and surpluses will nearly disappear.

(It should be noted that forecast skill declines with longer lead times.)

IMPACTS
Experts have to look back to the year 1902 to find an autumn drier than the current one in southern Australia, and this year's drought exemplifies a 30-year decline in rainfall in the famed Murray-Darling Basin as noted by scientists at the University of Melbourne. Autumn 2018 was also the fourth-warmest on record nation-wide. This month the federal government agreed to extend drought assistance packages to four years and also ear-marked AUD $20 million (USD $14.8 million) for farmers to restructure their businesses and for mental health services.

As part of its efforts to stop bushfires, Australia's Rural Fire Service has been conducting controlled hazard reduction burns around Sydney, but smoke from the burns is creating hazardous health conditions in the Sydney Basin. New South Wales Ambulance paramedics have responded to an increased number of calls concerning breathing difficulties.

A large storm battered Western Australia early this month with heavy rain and damaging winds, causing widespread blackouts and hazards associated with fallen powerlines. Up to 11,000 customers were without power at the peak of the storm. Two elderly people were injured inside their vehicle when a tree crashed down onto its roof.

The same front that caused the thunderstorms fanned two bushfires in southern Western Australia. Winds carried sparks up to 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) away from the source fire, igniting over 30 “spot fires” - a situation that the Department of Fire and Emergency Services called unprecedented for the city of Albany. Emergency warnings were issued in several towns as firefighters were stretched thin, and residents were eventually advised to shelter in place rather than embark into a deadly scene.

Heavy rains near Tolaga Bay in northern New Zealand threw massive amounts of logging debris across roads, properties, and beaches this month, amounting to a cleanup bill of at least AUD $10 million (USD $6.8 million).

NOTE ON ADMINISTRATIVE BOUNDARIES
There are numerous regions around the world where country borders are contested. ISciences depicts country boundaries on these maps solely to provide some geographic context. The boundaries are nominal, not legal, descriptions of each entity. The use of these boundaries does not imply any judgement on the legal status of any territory, or any endorsement or acceptance of disputed boundaries on the part of ISciences or our data providers.

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Many analyses reported in ISciences-authored blog posts are based on data generated by the ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM). Other sources, if used, are referenced in footnotes accompanying individual posts. WSIM is a validated capability that produces monthly reports on current and forecast global freshwater surpluses and deficits with lead times of 1-9 months at 0.5°x0.5° resolution. This capability has been in continuous operation since April 2011 and has proven to provide reliable forecasts of emerging water security concerns in that time-frame. WSIM has the ability to assess the impacts of water anomalies on people, agriculture, and electricity generation. Detailed data, customized visualizations, and reports are available for purchase.

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