Australia & New Zealand: Water deficits from eastern QLD to Melbourne

16 August 2019

The 12-month forecast through April 2020 indicates exceptional water deficits in a large pocket of the central Australian Outback, a stretch along the shore of South Australia including Kangaroo Island, pockets of Tasmania, the southwestern tip of Western Australia, and around Cairns in Far North Queensland.

Moderate to exceptional deficits are expected in a vast stretch in the east from Rockhampton in Queensland to Canberra. Fairly intense deficits are also forecast along the western shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north. Moderate deficits are forecast around Melbourne, in northern Queensland, and central Western Australia.

New Caledonia can expect intense deficits. Nearly normal conditions are forecast for New Zealand, with some moderate deficits north of Auckland.

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

The forecast through October indicates deficits ranging from moderate to exceptional in a vast stretch of eastern Australia from Rockhampton in Queensland (QLD) reaching south to Melbourne. Deficits will be exceptional in the Darling Downs, QLD, and extreme near Brisbane and Canberra. Pockets of intense deficit are forecast throughout Tasmania as well, and in the southwestern tip of Western Australia (WA) south of Busselton. Northern Territory’s (NT) Top End will see exceptional deficits; moderate deficits are expected scattered across central WA. Some surpluses are forecast on QLD’s central coast south of Townsville. Nearly normal water conditions are expected in New Zealand, but severe deficits will persist in New Caledonia.

From November 2019 through January 2020, conditions will normalize in much of Australia and New Zealand, though moderate deficits are forecast in eastern Australia from Brisbane down to Canberra and deficits may be severe around Armidale, New South Wales (NSW). Deficits will downgrade in New Caledonia, becoming moderate to severe. Some moderate surpluses will re-emerge in the northern Simpson Desert along the southern border of NT and QLD, and a pocket of exceptional surplus will persist in southern WA, northwest of Esperance.

The forecast for the final months – February through April 2020 – indicates mild deficits or normal conditions overall in Australia, though moderate to severe deficits are forecast in the east along with a few exceptional pockets in western QLD. Normal conditions are expected in New Zealand and New Caledonia.

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

[updated 26 Aug 2019]
Australia’s Grains Research and Development Corporation is conducting a global search for “climate-proof” grains that can be adapted to grow in Australia’s parched agricultural areas in the country’s east. Farming regions in southern Queensland are expected to miss their third winter grain crop in a row, and this year’s national crop is expected to be roughly 10 percent below the 10-year average. Over 95 percent of New South Wales is in a drought.

Nationwide, Australia experienced its third-hottest July on record, beaten by records set only in 2017 and 2018. The record-warm winter follows Australia’s hottest summer on record, prompting the fire service in New South Wales to announce a historic early start to the bushfire danger period in two areas along the southern coast. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority warned that it expects to manage the basin for very dry conditions, as river inflows in the past 12 months were the eighth-lowest in over 100 years.

New South Wales threatened to bow out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, citing that the newly proposed water savings required of the state are too high.

Drought combined with crashing wool prices has caused farmers to cut flocks and has cut yields to as low as 30 percent, especially in western New South Wales, leading to some of the lowest levels of national wool production seen in twenty years.

Some towns in New South Wales are implementing their highest-level water restrictions, prohibiting residents from using tap water for activities such as gardening and car washing.

The Australian government approved a AUD $5 billion Future Drought Fund (USD $3.38 billion) to provide investment in research to increase resilience of the agricultural sector to drought.

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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