Drought

February rainfall generally low, deficiencies increase

February rainfall was below average for Australia as a whole, despite very heavy rainfall in large parts of northern Queensland, which resulted in flooding.

Below to very much rainfall was extensive, affecting most of Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, southeastern quarter of Queensland and inland south of the State, and the northeastern third of New South Wales and the far west of the State. Rainfall was near-average for much of southeastern Australia.

February rainfall was the lowest on record for a number of stations in southern Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.

An active monsoon trough, and a slow-moving low pressure system produced extremely heavy rainfall in tropical Queensland from late January into early February, causing flooding on Queensland's tropical coast between Daintree and Mackay, and parts of the western Peninsula and Gulf coast (see Special Climate Statement An extended period of heavy rainfall and flooding in tropical Queensland).

While flooding was severe on parts of the coast around Townsville, and continued for multiple weeks in the Gulf Country and Northwest, rainfall has only alleviated rainfall deficiencies in areas concentrated around the Northern Territory border in northwestern Queensland and at the eastern edge (roughly around Longreach) of the area of deficiencies which extend across the southeastern quadrant of Queensland.

Elsewhere deficiencies have persisted or increased.

5-month rainfall deficiencies

Northern Australia receives the bulk of its rainfall between October and April (the northern wet season), so rainfall deficiencies during this period are particularly significant, and will not usually be removed before the following wet season. For the 2018–19 northern wet season so far, rainfall has been below average over most of the northern Territory, the northern half of Western Australia, and most of the southern half of Queensland.

Following low February rainfall outside of northern Queensland, deficiencies have increased across northern Western Australia, the Northern Territory, southeastern Queensland, and northern New South Wales. Deficiencies have decreased in northwestern Tasmania, but still persist across the west of the State.

Exceptional rainfall in much of northern Queensland has removed deficiencies in western Queensland.

Serious or severe rainfall deficiencies for the period starting October 2018 affect much of the coast of northern Western Australia, from Northwest Cape to the Kimberley; a large area in the central Northern Territory, and isolated pockets about the Top End coast; a large area in the southeastern quadrant of Queensland, extending into adjacent northern New South Wales; some areas of northeastern South Australia; across western Tasmania; and isolated pockets of southern Victoria in West Gippsland and on the west coast around Warrnambool.

11-month rainfall deficiencies

Deficiencies which emerged across southern and eastern Australia following a poor wet season (southern Australia receives the bulk of its rainfall between April and November) have persisted through a drier than average summer.

Compared to last month, deficiencies have most notably increased across the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia, eastern South Australia, and northern New South Wales.

Exceptional rainfall in much of northern Queensland has removed deficiencies in much of western Queensland.

Serious or severe rainfall deficiencies are in place across eastern South Australia (except the extreme southeastern tip); across Gippsland in Victoria, and part of the Central District; much of western, northern, and central southern New South Wales; southern Queensland, extending north to around Longreach; much of the Northern Territory away from the southwest and the Top End, where only small pockets are affected; and across much of the north of Western Australia, as well as areas in the central Gascoyne, and much of the South Coast and Southeast Coastal districts.

23-month rainfall deficiencies

Exceptional rainfall in much of northern Queensland has reduced deficiencies in northwestern Queensland, but they persist along the border and in the Channel Country.

Deficiencies have increased across eastern Australia, along the western coast of Australia, and in the Northern Territory.

Serious or severe rainfall deficiencies persist across southern and central Queensland, except for the coastal southeast and most of the Wide Bay and Burnett District, and also for parts of the west of the State in the Channel Country; most of New South Wales, except the northeast coast and most southern regions; across eastern Victoria and the east of the Central District; areas of coastal eastern and northern Tasmania; much of the eastern half of South Australia away from the far southeast and far northeast; and areas of the central Northern Territory.

For the Murray-Darling Basin rainfall for this period was the second-lowest on record behind 1900–02, compared to all other 23-month periods ending in February since 1900.

In Western Australia deficiencies are in place along the coast from about Port Hedland to the South Coastal District.

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Soil moisture

Compared to January, relative lower-layer soil moisture (from 10 cm to 100 cm deep) has decreased across northeastern New South Wales and southeastern Queensland, parts of Western Australia in the south, west, and north, the north of the Northern Territory, and in parts of Central Australia.

Following flooding rains in the north of Queensland, lower-layer soil moisture has increased across much of the north and west of the State.

Soil moisture for February was below average for much of the west, south and north of Western Australia; most of the Northern Territory; most of South Australia except the northwest; the southeastern quadrant of Queensland and along the southern border; northeastern New South Wales, as well as parts of the west and east of the State; much of Victoria except parts of the northeast and northwest; and western Tasmania.

Soil moisture was above average for a large part of Queensland, covering most of southern half of Cape York Peninsula and across the base of the Peninsula from the Central Coast to the northwest, and extending into the Gulf Country and Central West districts, and the northwest of the Channel Country. Soil moisture was also above average for a pocket of the southeast of the Interior District in Western Australia.

  • February rainfall below to very much below average for much of Australia
  • Rainfall above average for parts of northern Queensland, from the northwest to the central coast, and parts of Cape York Peninsula
  • Very heavy rainfall in northern Queensland reduced deficiencies in some areas of the west and adjacent Northern Territory, but for most of Australia deficiencies have generally increased
  • Lower-level soil moisture below average for February across most of Australia; above average for large areas of northern and western Queensland
  • Temperatures above average in most areas, adding to moisture stress

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.
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

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.

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.

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

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.

Australian Government drought assistance

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources information and contacts: