Regions parched ahead of hot, dry summer

The threat of drought is stalking regional Australia, as a warm and dry conclusion to 2012 leaves vast stretches of the landscape parched.

Weather forecasters now say there is little chance of a quick turnaround to the widening dry-spell plaguing many parts of the country. A new detailed forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology has shattered any expectation heavy falls experienced over the last two summers will be repeated this time.

The outlook is for a drier than normal summer across Australia, the result of warmer than normal waters in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The only part of the country that can expect above average rainfall between now and March is a small southern section of Western Australia.

Weather records show regional towns and cities received just a fraction of their usual rainfall during what will go down in the history books as the second warmest spring in 63 years.

During the past three months, vast stretches of northern and central western NSW slipped from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘marginal’ condition, meaning fields are drier and water storages have dipped. Nearly half the state is now in a marginal position. Parts of south west NSW have had less than 50 per cent of the rain they would usually expect.

The situation is also concerning in South Australia, which has just endured its driest November in 16 years. Between April and December, most SA pastoral areas recorded less than 30 per cent of their usual rainfall.

Map: Move your cursor over the image to see three-month rainfall ranges and where rain fell in November.

Peter Rose, a SA farmer, said just 31 millimetres had fallen on his crops east of Murray Bridge during the last three months.

“In September, the rain just switched off,” Mr Rose said.

“We’ve probably lost 20 per cent of yield I suppose but that is just one of those things. Spring is one of those things that can make and break your crops.

“Last year was a good one, this year wasn’t. That’s how it goes.”

Weatherzone meteorologist Josh Fisher said the predicted warm, dry summer could trigger a return to serious thunderstorm activity.

“This season in particular is likely to be more active than normal as we have plenty of available moisture due to warm seas surrounding the nation and high temperatures, which are two of the key ingredients to thunderstorms development,” Mr Fisher said.

“Compared to the last two years, there is (also) an increased risk of large hail with storms.”

Further analysis of 2012 records by Weatherzone meteorologists has also found:

* Albury, on the NSW/Victorian border, has received 758.2mm so far this year, well above the 674mm average. However, the result does not exceed last year’s total of 856mm.

* In Queensland, Emerald has received 653mm so far this year, also above the 574mm average.

* Along the east coast, Sydney saw just 105.2mm this Spring, making it the driest in a decade.

* In central Australia, Alice Springs has also seen below normal rainfall so far with just 191.4mm of rain for the year to date, well below the long-term average of 285.5mm. Alice Springs also recorded its longest dry spell on record this year after rain failed to fall for 157 days.

* Rainfall totals have been near to below average along the west coast this year due to the dominance of large high pressure systems.

* NSW has had its driest winter since 2009. The statewide average minimum temperature for winter in NSW was 3.8 degrees, making it the coolest winter for minimum temperatures since 2006.

* In Victoria, northern and eastern parts of the state also had cold night. Mount Hotham had an average minimum of -4.0 degrees across winter, which was the coldest in 20 years of records.

* When averaged across the state, the mean maximum temperature for Spring 2012 ranked as 2nd highest on record in WA, only behind the spring of 2006, from comparable records back to 1950.

Weatherzone is owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of this website.

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