Dry in the south and parts of the east coast

For Australia as a whole, the area-averaged rainfall total for March was 86.1% above the 1961–1990 average, the third-wettest March on record since the national dataset began in 1900. Overall, Western Australia had its fourth-wettest March on record and the Northern Territory its second-wettest March on record

Rainfall was below average to very much below average (in the lowest 10% of Marchs since 1900) for Tasmania, most of Victoria, south-eastern South Australia, south-western Western Australia and parts of eastern New South Wales and central eastern Queensland. March rainfall was the lowest on record for Victoria's South West and Central districts.

Victoria had its seventh-driest March on record, with area-average rainfall 78.0% below average and the driest March since 1986. For Tasmania, it was the driest March since 2005.

Mean maximum temperatures were above average to very much above average (in the highest 10% of all Marchs since 1910) for Tasmania, Victoria, most of New South Wales and South Australia and parts of Western Australia and Queensland, with potentially increased evapotranspiration.

The long-range forecast released on 4 April 2024, indicates that for April to June, below median rainfall is likely to very likely (60% to 80% chance) to be below median for most of Australia. Much of the east has about an equal chance of above or below median rainfall for April to June. However, the likelihood of unusually low rainfall is below 50% for all areas except the north-west. Large areas of eastern Queensland, eastern and southern New South Wales, most of Victoria and Tasmania have about an equal chance of above and below median rainfall. The chances of unusually low rainfall for April to June is below 50% for all areas except parts of northern Australia. Unusually low rainfall is defined as the driest 20% of April to June periods from 1981 to 2018.

Maximum and minimum temperatures are likely to be above median except for parts of northern Australia.

The State of the Climate 2022 reported a long-term shift towards drier conditions across the south-west and south-east of Australia, particularly during the cool season months of April to October. This is due to a combination of natural variability on decadal timescales and changes in large-scale circulation caused by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Since the 1990s, in the absence of strong 'wet' drivers, cool season (April to October) rainfall in southern Australia has generally been lower than average.

Deficiencies for the 8 months since August 2023

For the 8-month period since August 2023, areas with severe or serious rainfall deficiencies (rainfall totals in the lowest 5% or 10% of periods, respectively, since 1900) extend along the coast of south-west Western Australia, including some areas with lowest on record rainfall. Deficiency areas also extend along parts of the north-west coast in the south of the Kimberley district and inland from south-west of the Pilbara into the Gascoyne district. Away from the west coast, high March rainfall totals reduced rainfall deficiency areas in the north and cleared them in the Southern Interior district.

In the east of Australia, rainfall deficiency areas have continued to develop in size and severity along coastal south-eastern South Australia and south-western Victoria, across much of Tasmania, especially coastal areas, and in small areas along the Great Divide in northern New South Wales.

Deficiencies for the 11 months since May 2023

For the 11-month period since May 2023, areas of severe or serious rainfall deficiencies (rainfall totals in the lowest 5% or 10% of periods, respectively, since 1900) extend across much of the west of Western Australia, and along the Pilbara and south-west Kimberley coast. There were large areas of lowest on record rainfall in the south-west Pilbara, Gascoyne, Central West and South West districts. During March, high rainfall in much of Western Australia cleared deficiency areas in the Southern Interior district, in parts of the south-west, and reduced the extent of deficiency areas inland from the Pilbara and south-west Kimberley coast.

In the east of the country, areas of rainfall deficiency include parts of coastal northern New South Wales, much of eastern Tasmania, and small areas in south-eastern South Australia and coastal south-west Victoria. During March these deficiency areas expanded and intensified.

Deficiencies for the 16 months since December 2022

For the 16-month period since December 2022, areas with severe or serious rainfall deficiencies (rainfall totals in the lowest 5% or 10% of periods, respectively, since 1900) include coastal Western Australia between Port Hedland and Cape Leeuwin, and inland areas in the south-west. In eastern Australia, areas of deficiency are concentrated in the south-eastern corner of Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales, parts of coastal Tasmania including King and Flinders islands, and isolated pockets of southern South Australia and Victoria.

Since February areas with rainfall deficiencies have cleared in parts of the Pilbara in Western Australia, but have grown in extent and severity in north-eastern New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia.

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Below average soil moisture in the south

In March, root zone (0–1 m depth) soil moisture was average to above average over much of the country, with high March rainfall leading to areas of highest on record monthly soil moisture in the central Northern Territory. In contrast, parts of south-west Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria had below average rainfall during March resulting in very much below average soil moisture. Low rainfall and consequently below average soil moisture continued in eastern Tasmania.

Heavy rainfall across the Top End and central Western Australia associated with monsoonal activity and Tropical Cyclone Megan reduced most of the areas in the Pilbara and Kimberley districts where soils had previously been relatively dry. However, in the southern coastal areas, there has been a continued drying trend over the last two months, with some areas of western Victoria seeing lowest March soil moisture on record.

During cropping season, prolonged low root zone soil moisture limits crop growth and is an indicator of agricultural drought.

Increased evaporative stress in the southern coastal regions

Evaporative stress for the 4 weeks ending 31 March 2024 was elevated (negative Evaporative Stress Index (ESI)) along the north-west and southern coastal areas of Australia, and through much of South Australia, New South Wales and southern Queensland. While evaporative stress eased over parts of the Northern Territory and central and northern Western Australia, it increased over southern Australia, south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales during March. In particular, the index indicates an intensification of evaporative stress in southwest Western Australia, western Victoria and coastal Tasmania

The ESI is the standardised anomaly of the ratio of actual evapotranspiration to potential evapotranspiration and represents the influence of a combination of meteorological and land factors on drought conditions. A negative ESI is an indicator of vegetation moisture stress associated with agricultural and ecological drought. See this journal publication for further details on calculation and use of the ESI in drought monitoring.

  • The national, area-averaged rainfall total in March was 86.1% above the 1961–1990 average, the third-wettest March on record since the national dataset began in 1900.
  • Rainfall was below average to very much below average (in the lowest 10% of Marchs since 1900) for Tasmania, most of Victoria, south-eastern South Australia and parts of eastern New South Wales and south-western Western Australia. March rainfall was the lowest on record for Victoria's South West and Central districts.
  • For the 8 months since August 2023, areas with rainfall deficiencies persist along the south-west coast and parts of the north-west of Western Australia. In eastern Australia, deficiency areas have extended and intensified in coastal south-eastern South Australia and south-western Victoria, across much of Tasmania and in small areas along the Great Divide in northern New South Wales.
  • Areas of longer term, 11 to 16 months, rainfall deficiencies, are largely in the west of Western Australia, with small areas in eastern states, particularly in north-eastern New South Wales and Tasmania.
  • March soil moisture was very much below average in the South West district of Western Australia, in parts of South Australia, much of Tasmania and included lowest on record areas in western Victoria.
  • Low streamflow was observed in March at sites in the west of Western Australia, including Pilbara and Gascoyne, in scattered sites in south and central Queensland, in north-eastern New South Wales and western Victoria.
  • Storage levels remain low in some parts of central Queensland and many areas across New South Wales, central Tasmania, western Victoria, South Australia, Pilbara Gascoyne and Perth.
  • The long-range forecast, released on 4 April 2024, indicates that for April to June, below median rainfall is likely (60% to 80% chance) across South Australia, Victoria except the east coast, northern Tasmania, western and southern inland New South Wales, south-western Queensland, most of the Northern Territory and much of Western Australia.

Low streamflow in western parts of Western Australia, western Victoria and central parts of eastern Australia, high in northern Australia

In March, above to very much above average streamflow was observed at 22% of sites, mostly in northern Australia due to widespread rainfall across northern and north-western parts of the country associated with ex-Tropical Cyclone Megan. Above average streamflow in south-eastern Queensland, south-eastern New South Wales and eastern Victoria was mostly due to wet catchment conditions in the previous month.

Very much above average streamflow was observed at 7% of sites, mainly in the Northern Territory, the northern wet tropics of Queensland and the Kimberley district in Western Australia, mostly due to above average rainfall in these areas.

Below to very much below average streamflow was observed at 20% of the 344 Hydrologic Reference Stations (HRS), mostly associated with below average rainfall and dry catchment conditions, particularly in the west of Western Australia including the Pilbara and Gascoyne districts, scattered sites in the south and central Queensland, north-eastern New South Wales and western Victoria. Very much below average streamflow was observed at 3% of sites, mainly in south-west of Western Australia, western Victoria, north-eastern New South Wales and southern Queensland.

Streamflow was average at 58% of sites, across south and eastern Australia (based on HRS records since 1975).

In March, moderate to major flood warnings were issued for rivers across parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory due to heavy rainfall into already saturated river catchments. Major flooding for the McArthur River was brought on by heavy rainfall due to ex-tropical Megan. Wet catchments and downstream movement of floodwater resulted in above average streamflow at sites in these areas.

Streamflow decile rankings across Australia
Streamflow conditions in March 2024

High storage levels overall across the country

In March, above average rainfall across most of the Northern Territory, northern Western Australia, parts of Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales resulted in a slight increase in some storage levels from February. By the end of March, the total water storage in Australia (across 306 public storages) was at 80.8% of capacity, slightly higher (by 3.2%) than the previous month, and than at the same time last year (by 2.8%). Despite Australia's overall high storage, volumes decreased in March for 197 public storages and remain low in several locations, particularly in central Queensland, many storages across New South Wales, central Tasmania, western Victoria, South Australia, and the Pilbara, Gascoyne and urban areas of Perth in Western Australia.

Major storage levels across Australia
Storage conditions in March 2024

Combined storages in the Murray–Darling Basin were 76.4% full at the end of March, a decrease by 4.6% from February and 11.6% from the same time last year. Menindee Lakes, in the west of New South Wales was below half (48.1%) of its capacity at the end of March, a decrease of 2.0% from February and 38.3% from the same time last year.

Although significant rainfall occurred in March in the northern parts of Queensland, average to below average rainfall across the south-west of Western Australia resulted in a slight decrease in some storage levels. Perth's surface water storages were 38.3% full at the end of March, a 2.5% decrease from February, and an 8.8% decrease from the same time last year. Long-term declines in surface water inflows to Perth's storages means the city's water supply is reliant on desalination and groundwater sources. Water storage in Pilbara–Gascoyne was at 35.3% of capacity at the end of March, a decrease of 1.3% from February and a decrease of 35.2% from same time last year.

Central eastern parts of Queensland received below average to average March rainfall and some storages remained low in those areas. In central Queensland, water storage in Fairbairn was at 40.4% of capacity, a decrease of 3.5% from February and a slight decrease (3.2%) from same time last year. Water levels in the Lake Awoonga in south eastern Queensland remain low, capacity (53.4% full) at the end of March, a 1.4% decrease from February and a 8.2% decrease from the same time last year (61.6%).

Due to below average to very much below average rainfall and dry catchment conditions from February, water storage in Great Lake in Tasmania decreased to 24.6% full by the end of the month, a 3.4% decrease from February and a 10.6% decrease from the same time last year.

Product code: IDCKGD0AR0

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.

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