Rainfall deficiencies

A mob of sheep raises dust north of Dubbo, New South Wales, during drought. Photo by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australia is a large continent containing many different climate zones, from wet tropics in the north, arid and semi-arid conditions in the interior, and alpine climates in the south-east. Each climate zone is influenced by very different large-scale, predominant weather and climate patterns. For this reason, at any time different parts of the Australian continent can be affected by very different climate extremes. An example of this occurred in 2010, where southwest Western Australia experienced its driest year on record, in contrast to the rest of Australia, which received above-average to very-much-above-average rainfall.

Use our Drought Statement, rainfall maps and reports to watch for areas with significant long and short-term rainfall deficiencies.

Updated on 8 January 2015

Some relief on the east coast, rainfall deficiencies increase in western Victoria and southeast South Australia

December rainfall was below to very much below average for the Cape York Peninsula, large areas along and inland of the western coast of Western Australia, southern South Australia and western to central Victoria and smaller areas in the western Top End in the Northern Territory and southwest Tasmania. Monthly rainfall was in the lowest ten per cent of records (decile 1) for much of the Cape York Peninsula, and in pockets along the western coastline of Western Australia (however rainfall is typically low in in this region at this time of year). While rainfall in December has alleviated rainfall deficiencies in some parts of the east, rainfall has been below average across large parts of eastern Australia for most of 2014 and below-average rainfall in the past month has increased deficiencies in western Victoria and southeast South Australia at both shorter and longer timescales.

6-month rainfall deficiencies

For the 6-month period (July–December 2014), above-average December rainfall has significantly moderated short-term deficiencies across the Top End, eastern Northern Territory, central Australia and western Queensland. Serious and severe deficiencies (lowest 10% to lowest 5% of records) remain across most of the Cape York Peninsula, increasing in some areas. Small pockets of deficiencies also remain in the western Top End and northeastern South Australia.

Above to very-much-above-average rainfall along the east coast of New South Wales during December has alleviated deficiencies along and inland of the Great Dividing Range, although deficiencies remain for parts of southern New South Wales, the western half of Victoria, southeastern and agricultural regions of South Australia and a small area of northwestern Tasmania. The area affected by severe deficiencies (lowest 5% of records) in western Victoria and southeast South Australia has increased.

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13-month rainfall deficiencies

The effect of recent rainfall has been less pronounced at the 13-month timescale (December 2013 – December 2014). Deficiencies have been removed from parts of southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales, but areas of deficiencies still remain in some areas. Small pockets of serious deficiencies also remain in inland northern Queensland. Deficiencies have increased in western Victoria and adjacent southeastern South Australia. Deficiencies also persist in parts of Tasmania's east coast, northwest and west coast.

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27-month rainfall deficiencies

At the 27-month (October 2012 – December 2014) timescale, serious and severe rainfall deficiencies persist across much of Queensland away from the coast, extending into inland northeastern New South Wales, the southeast of the Northern Territory and northeast South Australia. Rainfall in the past month (December 2014) has alleviated deficiencies in some areas around the Central Highlands District of Queensland but little change has been seen in other areas.

The areas of serious and severe deficiencies have slightly increased since last month in the western half of Victoria and adjacent southeastern South Australia. Nearly the entire western half of Victoria is covered by deficiencies, excepting along the coast and the northern border. Deficiencies also persist in an area of the southern coastal Gascoyne around Shark Bay in Western Australia.

Long-term deficiencies in Queensland are largely the result of below-average rainfall over the 2013–14 and 2012–13 'summer' wet seasons (the northern wet season spans October–April). While December has brought above-average rainfall to much of northern Australia except the Cape York Peninsula, rainfall in the remainder of the northern wet season will also have to be well above average to lift the remainder of Queensland out of deficiency, i.e. above the tenth percentile for this time period.

It is generally difficult to compare one drought to another, since each drought differs in the seasonality, location, spatial extent and duration of the associated rainfall deficiencies. Additionally, each drought is accompanied by varying temperatures and soil moisture deficits.

The current drought in Queensland is comparable to the 2002–2003 drought, which was perhaps more severe in terms of rainfall deficiencies that occurred at times over a very large area. Historical data shows that the current drought is perhaps a one in ten or twenty year event over a significant part of inland eastern Australia (see for example the 24-month deciles map for 2013–2014), but very severe in some places. For some locations in central Queensland the present deficiencies are the most severe on record, and have been accompanied by record high temperatures. See: 24-month maximum temperature deciles map for 2013–2014.

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Soil moisture

Following above-average rainfall for much of tropical northern Australia, upper layer weekly soil moisture for the week ending 28 December was very much above average across the Kimberley and much of the Northern Territory, southern Queensland, northeastern and eastern New South Wales as well as along much of the southern coast of Western Australia. Soil moisture was below average for the Cape York Peninsula and parts of Queensland's north coast and inland north, parts of the Top End, along much of the west coast of Western Australia and also below average in a broad area covering much of eastern South Australia, western New South Wales, Victoria, except East Gippsland, and Tasmania.

Compared to last month, lower layer weekly soil moisture for the week ending 28 December remains similar across Western Australia, has increased in the Kimberley and central Northern Territory and parts of central eastern Queensland. Lower layer soil moisture is below average along much of the west coast and adjacent hinterland of Western Australia, the central Top End, inland northern Queensland, a large area of southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales, parts of southern New South Wales, most of Victoria, except the far east, and southeastern South Australia. Soil moisture is also below average for areas of northwestern, central and eastern Tasmania.

Further information

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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

These maps are also available from Maps - recent conditions

Weekly rainfall updates

Current map, small viewThe Weekly Rainfall Update describes rainfall over the previous week. It includes a map and a summary table of the highest weekly totals. A discussion of the impact of recent rains on rainfall deficiencies is also presented.

Rainfall and temperature outlooks

Current map, small viewRainfall and temperature outlooks outline likely conditions over three-month periods. Outlooks are available for single months, three months, and for any location in Australia. Formats include text summaries, maps, graphs and video.
Rainfall and temperature outlooks: Outlooks
Previous outlooks: Archive of outlooks Archive of outlook maps

Seasonal streamflow forecasts

Australian streamflows are among the most variable in the world. Seasonal streamflow forecasts extends water management decision making capability. Forecasts are issued monthly.

Climate statements archive

The archive includes previous monthly, seasonal and annual climate summaries for nation-wide, state/territory and capital city conditions.

Maps of recent conditions

CSIRO water balance maps

Small image of water balance mapCSIRO (AWAP) Water balance maps include maps of soil moisture and water fluxes contributing to changes in soil moisture (rainfall, transpiration, soil evaporation, surface runoff and deep drainage).

What is drought?

Drought is a prolonged, abnormally dry period when the amount of available water is insufficient to meet our normal use. Drought is not simply low rainfall; if it was, much of inland Australia would be in almost perpetual drought. Because people use water in so many different ways, there is no universal definition of drought. Meteorologists monitor the extent and severity of drought in terms of rainfall deficiencies. Agriculturalists rate the impact on primary industries, hydrologists compare ground water levels, and sociologists define it by social expectations and perceptions.

Rainfall averages, variability and trends

Median rainfall map, links to climate average maps An area experiences a rainfall deficit when the total rain received is less than the average rainfall for that period.

Definitions

Lowest on record - lowest since at least 1900 when the data analysed begin.
Severe deficiency - rainfalls in the lowest 5% of historical totals.
Serious deficiency - rainfalls in the lowest 10% of historical totals, but not in the lowest 5%.

Very much below average - rainfalls in the lowest 10% of historical totals.
Below average - rainfalls in the lowest 30% of historical totals, but not in the lowest 10%.
Average - rainfalls in the middle 40% of historical totals.
Above average - rainfalls in the highest 30% of historical totals, but not in the highest 10%.
Very much above average - rainfalls in the highest 10% of historical totals.

Acknowledgements

Front page photo, provided by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: 'A mob of sheep raises dust north of Dubbo, New South Wales, during drought'