Even as the Bureau of Meteorology holds off on declaring an El Niño event for 2023, we’re already seeing a winter season marked by record-breaking warm and dry conditions.
Some regions in Victoria are experiencing their driest winter in well over a hundred years. Over in New South Wales, the state’s Department of Primary Industries is already declaring certain sections of the state drought-stricken.
El Niño and Drought Concerns Loom Over Australia’s Rainfall Patterns
Recent weather patterns and predictions for the coming months have raised concerns about the likelihood of both El Niño and drought events.
Although the overall July rainfall for Australia was slightly above the 1961-1990 average by 1%, a closer look at the distribution unveils a tale of contrasts. The southern two-thirds of Western Australia, most of South Australia, eastern New South Wales, Victoria, and eastern Tasmania experienced below-average rainfall, setting the stage for potential water scarcity issues.
Since May 2023, extensive areas with severe rainfall deficiency have emerged across the southwestern half of Western Australia and the eastern coast of New South Wales.
This deficiency, which falls within the lowest 5% of historic observations since 1900, raises alarms about the prospect of drought conditions. The situation is exacerbated when considering the period since December 2022, with parts of southern Queensland, the northeastern quarter of New South Wales, and the southwest of Western Australia experiencing serious deficiencies, ranking in the lowest 10% of observations since 1900.
BOM senior climatologist, Jonathan Pollock, told the ABC that climate modelling had predicted changes in Indian Ocean temperatures that, coupled with El Niño, would begin to affect the country over the next few weeks or months.
Records Broken Over Winter
Record-breaking trends continued in July, particularly in the vast majority of East Gippsland. Gabo Island, situated off Victoria’s far eastern point, saw its lowest July rain tally in a 163-year record history.
Jackson Pollock noted that this year delivered Victoria’s sixth-warmest July for maximum temperatures in 114 years of data with Gippsland and parts of north-eastern Victoria experiencing the most extreme weather.
Parts of New South Wales Already Declared in Drought
In New South Wales, the Department of Primary Industries has declared parts of the Clarence, Mid-Coast, Dungog and Port Stephens local government areas to be in drought.
Significantly, for the second consecutive month, South Casino finds itself under drought classification.
Worryingly, the drought’s continued impact now stretches to include parts of the North Coast and Hunter regions, also spanning across sections of the Northern Tablelands, North West, and South East regions.
This sudden onset of drought is a sharp 180 from last year when floods devastated many parts of the state. One of the driest regions is the Northern Rivers, where areas near flood-ravaged Lismore have slipped into drought.
Anthony Clark, from the Department of Primary Industries, forecasted a worrying outlook: conditions exacerbating further as we approach spring and summer.
“That region seems to be faring the worst out of all the regions we’ve been monitoring,” he said.
“You’ve got quite a severe rainfall deficit.
“If you look at the last 12 months, it’s actually sitting well below the fifth percentile, which is the lowest 5 per cent in the last sort of 100 years.”
Challenging Outlook Ahead: August to October Weather Forecast
The long-range forecast for the period spanning August to October, issued on 3 August 2023, paints a complex picture of Australia’s weather landscape.
Brace for drier conditions as below-median rainfall is anticipated, with a likelihood ranging from 60% to greater than 80% for much of the nation. But it’s not just the rain that’s taking a hit – temperatures are set to soar.
Prepare for above median maximum temperatures, a trend that holds a very likely probability (greater than 80% chance) across nearly all of Australia.
Even the nights won’t offer much respite, as minimum temperatures are expected to range from likely to very likely (60% to greater than 80% chance) to be above the median for almost the entirety of the country.
In tackling this complex interplay of climatic conditions, staying informed and prepared becomes our best course of action as we ready ourselves for the challenging weather patterns on the horizon.