Australia & New Zealand: Intense water deficits to persist in southeastern Australia

18 October 2018

The 12-month forecast through June 2019 shows intense deficits in southeastern Australia, moderate deficits in the eastern third of the country, and surpluses in northwestern Western Australia through the Hamersley Range to the Fitzroy River and in the Victoria River watershed of Northern Territory.

Exceptional deficits are forecast for the Blackwood River region near Busselton in the tip of Western Australia, and moderate to extreme deficits are forecast for the Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland.

Some moderate deficits are forecast for South Island New Zealand and severe deficits in western and northern North Island. Significant deficits are forecast for New Caledonia.

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

The forecast through December indicates that intense deficits which have dominated much of Australia in prior months will retreat from most regions except the southeast, where severe to exceptional deficits will persist. Deficits will be exceptional in Tasmania, and severe to exceptional along the southeast coast from Adelaide through Victoria and past Canberra. Moderate deficits are expected in the Murray-Darling Basin. Exceptional deficits will persist in the tip of Western Australia (WA), moderate deficits are forecast scattered across northern Australia, and some moderate surpluses are expected south of the Fitzroy River in northern WA near the Dampier Peninsula. Moderate to severe deficits are forecast for New Zealand, and deficits in New Caledonia will moderate.

From January through March deficits will shrink and downgrade in southeastern Australia but will remain fairly intense in Tasmania. Moderate deficits are forecast for Victoria and eastern New South Wales (NSW) but deficits may be more intense east of Melbourne, along the Murray River, and in the Riverina region of NSW. Deficits in Cape York, Queensland will become severe, and intense deficits will persist in a small pocket in the tip of WA. Moderate to extreme surpluses will emerge in the Hamersley Range in northern WA, will re-emerge slightly north along the coast south of the Dampier Peninsula, and will also emerge in the Victoria River watershed of Northern Territory (NT). Moderate deficits are forecast for North Island, New Zealand and New Caledonia.

The forecast for the final months – April through June – indicates merely mild deficits in much of Australia, moderate deficits across the north and in the center of the country, and some lingering surpluses in northwestern WA and in northern NT.

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

Farmers in eastern Australia rejoiced this month as 40 to 50mm (1.6 to 2 inches) of rain fell on parched lands following Australia’s driest September on record. The day of heavy rain topped the average total for the entire month of October in some towns.

In late September the state of South Australia formally recognized the drought for the first time, after expected early spring rains held off. For months, farmers in the state have been destocking, cutting crops early, and facing water and feed shortages amid drought conditions. South Australia’s reluctance to declare drought precluded farmers in the state from benefitting from federal programs, leading some to wonder if the state government could have taken more action earlier, as complaints were coming in. In contrast, over 60 councils in neighboring states to the east have received federal drought-assistance.

Others wonder whether drought assistance is coming at too high a cost to perpetuate farming in an increasingly harsh climate. Until 2012, farmers received cash payments under the Exceptional Circumstances relief system, introduced in the 1990’s. It was phased out, in part because the definition of exceptional circumstance has become hazy amid increasingly severe and persistent droughts in the country. Now, some critics say, assistance is on an ad-hoc basis, where the country needs a systematic, long-term policy that considers the changing climate and the impacts of various farm management practices.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology warned of a 70 percent chance of El Niño conditions this year, worsening drought, heat, and bushfires across the country.

The Murray-Darling Basin, Australia’s largest river catchment, is experiencing its second-driest year since records began in 1900.

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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