Drought Statement - Issued 4th March 2009

For the 14 and 21-month periods ending 28th February 2009

A dry February for southeastern Australia

Rainfall deficiencies definition
14-month rainfall deficiencies
21-month rainfall deficiencies

Rainfall was below to very much below average across most of southeastern Australia during February 2009, maintaining rainfall deficiencies in this area.

For the 14-month period from January 2008 to February 2009, above average rainfall was recorded across most of the tropics, along with northeastern NSW and some areas of western WA. Rainfall was generally average to below average across the remainder of the country with much of Victoria experiencing very much below average rainfall. Victoria has experienced its second driest start to the year on record with SA experiencing its sixth driest start. For the 14-month period, areas of serious to severe rainfall deficiencies are evident in southern and western Victoria into southeastern SA, northern and eastern Tasmania, near Hobart, and in areas of central Australia.

The rainfall deficiencies map for the 21-month period from June 2007 to February 2009 shows areas of serious to severe deficiencies spread across mainly southeast Australia, with a few areas in central Australia. These deficiencies cover most of the agricultural areas of South Australia, much of central and western Victoria, and northern and eastern Tasmania. Small areas of lowest on record are evident on the Eyre Peninsula in SA and in the Wimmera district in Victoria. A dry February over much of southeast Australia has resulted in an increase of the area of severe deficiencies. Over the 21-month period the Top End and much of eastern Queensland and northeast NSW had some benefit from above average rainfall associated with the 2007/08 La Niña. Tropical rainfall has also been generally above average through the 2008/09 wet season. However, in southeastern and central Australia, apart from wet November and December periods in both 2007 and 2008, rainfall was generally below to very much below average.

The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is a pattern of sea surface variability across the Indian Ocean that is associated with lower than normal rainfall over central and southern Australia when it is in a positive phase (see IOD). Both 2007 and 2008 were consecutive years of sustained positive IOD, which partly explains rainfall deficits through the 20-month period in these areas. The IOD usually has its greatest impacts between June and November.

The deficiencies discussed above have occurred against a backdrop of decade-long rainfall deficits and record high temperatures that have severely stressed water supplies in the east and southwest of the country. The combination of record heat and widespread drought during the past five to ten years over large parts of southern and eastern Australia is without historical precedent and is, at least partly, a result of climate change.

For more information go to a recent Special Climate Statement on the long-term drought in southern Australia "Long-term rainfall deficiencies continue in southern Australia while wet conditions dominate the north", issued 10 October 2008. Despite the generally wet conditions in November and December, very dry conditions in October and since the start of 2009 have resulted in these long-term deficiencies remaining fairly stable over the last few months.

More information on the climate of Australia during 2008 can be obtained from the Annual Australian Climate Statement.

Rainfall deficiency maps for standard periods out to three years are available.

Note: The terms used to describe rainfall in these Drought Statements have the following meanings -

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

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

For more information regarding this rainfall deficiencies statement, please contact the following climate meteorologists in the National Climate Centre:

Lynette Bettio on (03) 9669 4165
Robyn Gardiner on (03) 9669 4671
David Jones on (03) 9669 4085

External Sites Relating to Drought

The Bureau of Meteorology does not make formal drought declarations as these are done by either the relevant State Governments or by the Australian Government. The Australian Government Program is called Exceptional Circumstances and it is administered by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). General information about Australian Government drought assistance is available at http://www.daff.gov.au/droughtassist.

Click on the map for full resolution.
Click on the map for full resolution.
A black and white version is also available.

Click on the map for full resolution.
Click on the map for full resolution.
A black and white version is also available.