Drought
Rainfall deficiencies and water availability

Deficiencies continue in Queensland and Western Australia

Rainfall deficiencies at shorter timescales such as the 10 months from April 2020 to January 2021 continue in parts of southwest to central Western Australia and greater southeastern Queensland. While most of the regions affected by serious or severe rainfall deficiencies received near average or below average rainfall, parts of inland southern Queensland received above average rainfall for January 2021, resulting in a lessening of deficiencies in that area.

Elsewhere in Australia, January rainfall was above average for much of mainland southeast Australia contributing to gradual recovery from longer term multi-year rainfall deficits. Following above average January rainfall over parts of southeast Australia some areas have seen a lessening of rainfall deficiencies for both January 2017 to present and January 2018 to present, most notably over northeastern Victoria and southern to central New South Wales for both periods.

The Annual Climate Statement 2020 reported that 2020 was the fourth warmest year on record for Australia, and that the annual total rainfall was 4% above average. Rainfall during 2020 helped relieve some of the most extreme drought conditions in parts of eastern Australia but more rainfall is needed over an extended period to fully recover from the extended extreme dry conditions of 2017 to 2019.

The Climate Outlook, issued 4 February, indicates February to April 2021 rainfall is likely to be close to or above average for much of Australia, with a greater than 70% chance of above average rainfall for much of Western Australia, northeast Queensland, and parts of southeast Australia, including eastern Tasmania.

10-month rainfall deficiencies

Serious or severe rainfall deficiencies for the 10-month period April 2020–January 2021 are in place in a large area of Western Australia, covering parts of the central South West Land Division, the eastern half of the Gascoyne, and the west of the Goldfields District. Deficiencies remain similar to the previous 9-month period, with little rain falling in January in what is a seasonally dry time of the year for the South West Land Division.

In eastern Australia, rainfall deficiencies have again contracted in Queensland, although serious or severe rainfall deficiencies continue in parts of the greater southeast of the State, covering the Wide Bay and Burnett District, extending in some areas north to around Rockhampton and inland to around Tambo and Charleville. Some areas of southern inland Queensland received above average rainfall for January.

Extended dry conditions over eastern Australia

Australia has experienced a prolonged period of below average rainfall spanning several years.

Rainfall deficiencies have affected much of Australia since January 2017. Multi-year rainfall deficiencies and their impact on the Murray–Darling Basin are discussed in Special Climate Statement 70 and the dry conditions over Eastern Australia for the period commencing January 2018 are described in Special Climate Statement 66. The strip along the west coast and south coast of Western Australia has also been affected by rainfall deficiencies for the periods commencing January 2017 and January 2018.

For periods longer than 24 months, the greatest impact of the prolonged below average rainfall has been in the cooler months of April to October. Large parts of the country remain in severe rainfall deficiency for the 34-month period from April 2018 to January 2021, though rainfall last year and in early 2021 has seen improvement across many areas. Above-average January rainfall eased longer-term deficiencies slightly in parts of the southeast, most notably over northeastern Victoria and southern to central New South Wales. However, in inland Western Australia rainfall deficiencies generally increased compared to the same period ending December 2020.

Persistent, widespread, above average rainfall is needed to lift areas out of deficiency at annual and longer timescales and provide relief from the impacts of this long period of low rainfall (such as renewing water storages). The impact of the longer dry on water resources is still evident, especially in northern parts of the Murray–Darling Basin where total storage levels remain low.

The role of climate change in rainfall reduction over southern Australia and along the Great Dividing Range is discussed in State of the Climate 2020. Parts of southwest, southeast, and eastern Australia—including parts of southeast Queensland and southern and eastern New South Wales—have seen substantial declines in cool-season rainfall in recent decades.

Soil moisture

Compared to last month, root-zone soil moisture (in the top 100 cm) has increased across much of southeast Australia and Queensland, but has decreased across much of Western Australia, especially in the west and the north, and also across much of the Northern Territory.

Soil moisture was below average for large parts of the southern third of Western Australia, and parts of the agricultural districts of South Australia, mostly around the southeast. Soils were wetter than average for the month across much of the remainder of Australia: through the eastern interior of Western Australia, most of the Northern Territory and New South Wales, northern and far southern Queensland, southern Victoria, eastern Tasmania, northeastern and southwestern South Australia.

The influence of very low rainfall over longer timescales is still evident in the 16-month soil moisture for October 2019–January 2021, which was very much below average over large areas, predominantly in the west and south of Western Australia.

  • Deficiencies continue in the southeastern quarter of Queensland and large areas of the west to central regions of Western Australia
  • Accumulated rainfall deficits at multi-year timescales remain significant in many parts of Australia, and may persist for some time
  • Root-zone soil moisture has decreased across Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and increased across much of the southeast and Queensland
  • Major water storage levels remain low in the northern Murray–Darling Basin
  • Northern Australian water storages have started to increase in response to northern rainfall onset

Major water storage levels remain low in the northern Murray–Darling Basin

The total water storage levels in the Murray–Darling Basin decreased in January but remain significantly higher than the same time last year. The total storage fell to 54.1% of capacity at the end of the month, a decrease of 3.9% of capacity since last month, but remains at a much higher level (31.7%) than for the same time last year.

The storage levels in the north differ from those in the south. Total water storage in the northern Basin increased by 3.8% to 27.4% of capacity (1,272 GL) at the end of January, which is 21.4% higher than the same time last year. Despite above average rainfall across most of the southern Basin, the total storage decreased by 5.7% to reach 60.1% (12,423 GL) of capacity; which is still significantly higher than January 2020 when it was only 37.4%.

January rainfall was close to average across most of the northern Basin. However, localised rainfall in the Balonne River basin contributed to large increases in two storages: Lake Kajarabie (Beardmore Dam) by 39% of capacity, and Jack Taylor by 22.4%. These are the only storages in the northern Basin at greater than half of their capacity. Other storages in the north that increased include Keepit (by 14%), Copeton (by 5.5%), Split Rock (6.2%), and Chaffey (by 2%). All other storages in the northern Basin decreased by 1 to 3% in January.

For the southern Basin, the highest percentage decreases in capacity of the major storages in January were for Lake Victoria by 20%, Blowering by 14%, Burrinjuck by 13%, Hume by 12.7%, and Wyangala by 4.2%. All other storages in the southern Basin decreased by 1 to 3% of their capacity. The only exceptions with slight increases were Darthmouth and Lake Cargelligo. Despite the overall decline, some individual storages like Corin, Cotter, Googong, Lake Buffalo, Lake Pamamaroo, Lauriston, and Upper Coliban were above 90% of their capacity.

Major storage levels in the Murray-Darling Basin
Major storage levels in the Murray–Darling Basin
MDB south storage levels
MDB south storage levels
MDB north storage levels
MDB north storage levels

Northern Australian water storage levels remain low

The northern Australian monsoon season commenced in December and continued through January and, in response, water storages in northern Australia have started to increase. Water levels in Lake Argyle, the largest water supply storage in Australia holding up to 10,400 GL, have been decreasing since September 2017 as the past three wet seasons have not delivered significant inflows to the storage. This year's monsoon has brought some relief and in January, Lake Argyle's storage volume increased by 4.6% to reach 31.4% of its accessible capacity. Wet season filling is also reflected in the Darwin River storage which has increased by 7.4% to reach 59% of its capacity.

The largest storage in South East Queensland, Wivenhoe, has decreased significantly in the past three years and continued to decrease in January to reach to 37.6 % of capacity at the end of the month.

Product code: IDCKGD0AR0

A very dry month for the southeastern mainland increases rainfall deficiencies
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Soil moisture data is from the Bureau's Australian Water Resources Assessment Landscape (AWRA-L) model, developed through the Water Information Research and Development Alliance between the Bureau and CSIRO.
See: Australian Landscape Water Balance.

This section displays rainfall maps. Current drought status is described in the previous section. For historical drought status statements, go to archive of drought statements

Also available at Maps – recent conditions

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