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

17 September 2019

THE BIG PICTURE
The 12-month forecast through May 2020 indicates exceptional water deficits in South Australia, and deficits reaching exceptional intensity in a wide path along the eastern portion of the nation and in Tasmania.

Deficits will be exceptional near Adelaide, extreme around Canberra, and severe near Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. Widespread, intense deficits are expected in the Murray-Darling Basin. Intense deficits are also forecast for Australia’s southwestern tip around Busselton and the Blackwood River region.

Nearly normal conditions are expected in New Zealand, with some moderate surplus along the southeastern coast of South Island and some areas of moderate deficit on North Island. Extreme deficits are forecast for New Caledonia.

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

The forecast through November indicates deficits ranging from severe 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; extreme near Brisbane and Canberra; and severe to exceptional in the eastern Murray-Darling Basin. Deficits will shrink and downgrade somewhat in Tasmania but will be severe. In the southwestern tip of Western Australia (WA) deficits will also shrink but will remain exceptional along the Blackwood River. Exceptional deficits are forecast for the eastern portion of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia and moderate to exceptional deficits in the center of the state. Moderate deficits will persist in Top End, Northern Territory (NT); southern South Australia; and the western Murray-Darling Basin.

Nearly normal water conditions are expected in New Zealand with some pockets of moderate surplus. Severe to extreme deficits will persist in New Caledonia.

From December 2019 through February 2020, conditions will normalize in much of Australia and New Zealand. Moderate deficits are forecast from eastern New South Wales through southeastern Victoria, including Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne. Deficits will shrink and moderate in Tasmania and New Caledonia. Some moderate surpluses will re-emerge in the northern Simpson Desert along the southern border of NT and QLD, and surpluses will increase along a path near the coast in south-central WA northwest of Esperance.

The forecast for the final months – March through May 2020 – indicates mild deficits or normal conditions overall in the region.

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

IMPACTS
Parts of the Murray-Darling Basin are under the most severe drought conditions of the past 120 years, with precipitation totals more than a meter lower than the usual three-year totals.

In what’s being called a “modern day Noah’s Ark rescue” costing AUD $10 million (USD $6.87 million), the New South Wales government made an unprecedented plan to transport hundreds of thousands of fish from a drying river basin to prevent near-extinction die-offs this summer.

Queensland announced that it will truck water to the drought-hit town of Stanthorpe, which is expected to run out of water by December. Bushfire season started early this year in Queensland and New South Wales, two states suffering the brunt of the severe drought currently plaguing the country. Trucking in 1.6 million liters (422,000 gallons) of water each day to Stanthorpe will cost AUD $800,000 (USD $549,000) per month.

Worst-case scenarios illuminate the potential for parts of rural New South Wales to run out of water as early as this November.

Sudden stratospheric warming in Antarctica, in a phenomenon called the “strongest Antarctic warming on record,” began the last week of August and is expected to exacerbate drought in Australia. The warm air from the Antarctic tracks northward to Australia, blowing eastward across the central desert to New South Wales and Queensland, preventing moist winds from blowing from the ocean.

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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