Australia Wide Bay Burnett remains desperately dry despite La Niña drenching much of Australia
'Autumn predictability barrier' means April is the toughest month to make climate forecasts
Now La Niña has ended, what is next? The problem is there's no time of the year harder to make climate forecasts than right now.The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting April to June to be likely wetter than average across the north of Australia and drier than average for the southern half of Queensland, inland parts of NSW and Victoria, and far eastern SA.
It is a map that tells an encouraging story for most of Australia but a cruel tale for an unlucky few.
Apart from a few pockets in WA and Tasmania, Queensland's Wide Bay Burnett is the national standout when it comes to severe rainfall deficiency — rainfall within the lowest 5 per cent of records for the period — after La Niña finally delivered downpours across March and into April.
The region presents a stark contrast in the Bureau of Meteorology's (BOM) latest drought statement, which said deficiencies in rainfall had otherwise been "substantially reduced" over the past month.
Under the dome?
BOM senior climatologist Greg Browning said the lack of rain in the Wide Bay was "a case of bad luck as much as anything".
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"There's been a band across coastal Queensland, and the Wide Bay seems to be right in the middle of it all, they just haven't reaped the rewards of this wet summer that has been seen across most of Australia," he said.
"On top of longer-term rainfall deficiencies and drought situations, it probably seems like you've just missed out on this whole La Niña thing for the last six months.
"The majority of rain along that part of the coast will come from the east, so you've got a good moisture source with the water there."
Mr Browning said it was "highly unlikely" that topography played a part, highlighting the heavy rain and flooding that occurred across the region in comparable La Niña conditions in 2010 and 2012.
"Having an anecdotal discussion with forecasters, it seems like the weather systems just haven't been playing ball with that part of Queensland, and the rain's been falling further offshore than what it might in a normal year," he said.
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"A lot of south-east Queensland has seen a decreasing rainfall trend in recent decades and that does extend up to the Wide Bay."
Farmers feel the frustration
Coalstoun Lakes dairy farmer Robbie Radel said while the past six weeks had brought badly needed rain to the North Burnett, it still was not enough.
"A lot of people are disappointed that break didn't come earlier and that when it did come, it hasn't been as good or as big as we were possibly expecting or certainly hoping for," he said.
"That's backed up by the new map BOM has released."
Mr Radel said he did not buy into the "dome" theory sometimes raised when a region missed out on rain, "but you do get that feeling".
"It's very frustrating to know there's big rain just to the north or just to the south, and occasionally just to the west.
"That dome, or the umbrella as it's often referred to, certainly seemed to go up over the Wide Bay here."
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On the Radel property the paddocks are "beautiful" and lush.
Mr Radel described it as "marginally better than a green drought" — a term often used to describe growth that appears promising but ultimately holds little long-term productivity.
"Even though it's quite green and everything looks well, there certainly hasn't been the run-off rain [needed]," he said.
"There's a lot of creeks and rivers throughout the Wide Bay Burnett that normally get a very good flush and quite often flood during the wetter months of the year.
"There's quite a few of those that haven't had a run in them yet.
"A lot of people will go into winter with a bit of green feed in the paddock but they won't have any groundwater."
Ongoing dry points to climate change
Large parts of Australia have been in rainfall deficiency since 2017, but it is not just a recent problem.
The latest BOM drought statement noted parts of south-west, south-east and eastern Australia had seen "substantial declines in cool-season rainfall in recent decades".
It pointed to climate change as a factor, with the bureau's State Of The Climate 2020 report declaring April to October rainfall had dropped by 12 per cent across Australia's south-east since the late 1990s.
The report stated, for Queensland, the latest La Niña downpours meant "shorter-term deficits have eased but multi-year rainfall deficits persist".
In other words, the dry is not over yet for many parts of Australia.
"Deficiencies for the periods January 2017 to present and January 2018 to present still exist over very large parts of the country," the BOM said.
"More rainfall is needed over an extended period to continue the recovery from the extended dry conditions of 2017 to 2019."
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Get your air filter ready — wildfire season is likely to start early this year.The warning signs are written in the parched landscape from New Mexico to California. This time last year, 27 percent of the West was in drought — now that has risen to 76 percent, turning forests into matchsticks.