Drought
Rainfall deficiencies and water availability

No formally monitored drought periods for January

Rainfall for November 2021 was above or very much above average for most of mainland Australia, clearing serious rainfall deficiencies for the period commencing April 2020 from Queensland.

Rainfall for December 2021 was very much below average along the southern coastline of the mainland and across Tasmania, and below average for much of the southern half of Western Australia and parts of Central Australia and the inland north. December rainfall was above average for the Top End in the Northern Territory; Cape York Peninsula in Queensland; much of eastern New South Wales, extending into south-eastern Queensland and far eastern Victoria; and in some parts of upper western New South Wales to southern inland Queensland, and pockets of Queensland's tropics.

The Climate Outlook released on 6 January 2022 indicates rainfall for February to April is likely to be above median for parts of mainland eastern Australia, and parts of the Northern Territory.

Multi-year rainfall deficiencies which originated during the 2017–2019 drought remain over large parts of the country, with very large accumulated rainfall anomalies for some areas. However for recent months, seasonal conditions have improved over large areas, and water storages have increased across much of the country.

Many areas experiencing rainfall deficiencies for periods longer than 24 months have typically experienced below average rainfall between April and October, which is consistent with the long term trends in rainfall reduction over southern Australia and along the Great Dividing Range as discussed in State of the Climate 2020.

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Soil moisture

Root-zone soil moisture (soil moisture in the top 100 cm) for December 2021 was above average across most of New South Wales, eastern Queensland, eastern Victoria, much of South Australia, parts of south-east and central Western Australia, the Top End, and parts of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. In the north-east of the Murray–Darling Basin, near Toowoomba, and in the east, near Tamworth, the highest soil moisture levels for December were recorded.

Soil moisture was below average for western Tasmania, western Victoria and south-eastern South Australia, large parts of the South West Land Division and southern Western Australia, and some parts of the northern tropics, mostly in inland areas.

Soil moisture has generally decreased across most of Australia, following near-saturated soils resulting from record November rainfall. Soil moisture remained similar to the previous month across parts of the east coast.

Saturated soil conditions, especially across eastern Australia, may result in large inflows into water storages if further rainfall occurs during the coming months. Wet soils, high streamflows, and full storages increase the risk of flooding.

  • Record November rainfall cleared deficiencies existing since April 2020, with no short- to medium-term deficiency periods currently being monitored
  • December rainfall was very much below average along the southern coastline of the mainland and across Tasmania
  • Storages remain low in Central Queensland but are in a better position compared to the same time last year
  • Wivenhoe in South East Queensland had an increase in storage volume during December but is still well below full capacity
  • Storages in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory reached 100% and started to spill during December
  • Many storages in the Murray–Darling Basin are above full capacity

South East and Central Queensland storages remain low

South East Queensland received average to above average rainfall which resulted in an increase in storage levels but dams are still well below capacity. Wivenhoe, the largest storage, increased by 6.4% during December but is still below 50% capacity.

In Central Queensland, rainfall has been average for the majority of the area except for the west which experienced below to very much below average rainfall. Following the significant increase in storage volume in the Bundaberg system in November, the water in storage decreased slightly in December by 1.5% to 51.7% of capacity. However, this is still higher than the same time last year when it was at 40.6%. In the Nogoa Mackenzie system, storage levels continued to increase, and by the end of December, the storage volume had increased another 3.6%, however, the volume is still very low at 27.8% of capacity.

Storage levels in the Murray–Darling Basin continued to increase significantly

In much of the Murray–Darling Basin December rainfall was above average or close to average, except for the Victorian and South Australian parts. This has resulted in many storages in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory reaching 100% and starting to spill. The total water storage in the Murray–Darling Basin decreased by less than 1% for December to 90%, ending the run of 3 consecutive months of increases, however some of the decreases were due to storage operations. Compared to the same time last year, when the total storage volume was only 57%, the water storages are in a significantly better position.

The total storage in the northern Basin increased by 1% to 91.9% of capacity (4 272 GL) at the end of December. This is the highest level since May 2012 and a significant increase from the same time last year when it was only 25.6%. In the northern Basin, 6 out of 14 storages are above their full capacities with another 5 greater than 98%. The biggest increases in storage volumes occurred in Leslie (22%) and Cooby Creek (15.7%).

The total storage in the southern Basin (comprising more than 80% of the total storage volume in the Basin) decreased slightly by 1.1% to 89.2% (18 428 GL) of capacity in December. This is still considerably higher than the same time last year when it was only 64.5%. Most of the storages in the southern Basin are at or near full capacity. At the end of December, Hume dam was at 96.8% of capacity, a decrease of 1.5% from last month. During the early part of December, releases were made to meet irrigation demands and environmental requirements and it is expected the levels within Hume dam will continue to decrease over the next few months.

In the Lachlan valley, Lake Cargelligo increased by 67.5% during the month of December as a result of the flood waters resulting from above average rainfall. The levels within the Menindee Lakes system started to decrease during December as releases were made to reduce the storages to accommodate forecast flows from the upstream tributaries and at the end of December was at 93.1%.

Further detail on individual Murray–Darling Basin catchments can be found in the Murray–Darling Basin Information Portal.

Major storage levels in the Murray-Darling Basin
Major storage levels in the Murray–Darling Basin

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 Water Outlook: Soil moisture.

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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