Wet weather begins to mitigate effects of long-term drought in Australia

By Maura Kelly,

The return of rain in southeastern Australia continues to be celebrated, but the wet weather so far this year has put only a small dent in the effects of the ongoing drought that has plagued the country.

A storm system that moved through the Great Australian Bight on Tuesday and Wednesday brought more beneficial rain to southeastern Australia during the first half of the week.


Showers and thunderstorms spread across South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and into southern Queensland.

As of Wednesday, 0.6 inch to 4 inches of rain had fallen in these areas in the past week, which helped ease the long-standing rainfall deficits.

Periods of rain and thunderstorms are forecast to continue in Victoria and New South Wales on Thursday, further increasing rainfall totals in the region.

The center of the storm is expected to stall near Tasmania through the end of the week, keeping scattered showers in parts of Victoria. As colder air rushes in behind the system, precipitation can even fall as snow in higher elevations.


While increased rainfall for the first few months of 2020 compared to 2019 is a blessing to many, not everyone is getting their hopes up just yet.

Garry Hall, a cattle breeder in the northern New South Wales, has reported more rain since February than for all of 2018 and 2019, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Macquarie River is rushing past his property, but that doesn't signal the end of the drought.

According to Hall, "A large area of the Macquarie Marshes hasn't seen water yet. It's pretty important to get it in there to start the long journey back."

This chart shows the amount of total rainfall from January to March in 2020 compared to the same months in 2019. Blue and purple shades indicate areas which have been wetter this year, while yellow and red shades indicate areas which have been drier this year. Image courtesy of Bureau of Meteorology

While the rain deficit, which began in 2018, has improved and soil moisture has increased across a large portion of the country, this is just the beginning in the long road to recovery.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology stated in its monthly drought report that although drought conditions have been erased, long-term rainfall deficits persist across most of the country.


And while plenty of rain fell along the eastern coast, the bulk of the rainfall did not make it over the Great Dividing Range, a mountain range in eastern Australia that separates the coastal rivers and inland rivers.

This chart shows rainfall totals from January to March of 2020. Image courtesy of the Bureau of Meteorology

This has slowed the recovery of dams on the western slopes.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Burrendong Dam, which supplies much of the water for the Macquarie River, remains at 16.4 percent full, while Keepit Dam on the Namoi is at just 13.7 percent.

This wetter pattern looks to continue through the austral winter and spring months. Long-range forecast tools indicate trends that tend to favor near- to above-normal rainfall across much of northern and eastern Australia, according to AccuWeather senior meteorologist Jason Nicholls.

This forecast will also bring relief to the area after the 2019-20 bushfire season, known to locals as the "Black Summer."

"The 2019/2020 wildfire season burned an estimated 46 million acres or 186,000 square kilometers and destroyed over 5,900 buildings and claimed at least 34 lives. The fires killed an estimated 1 billion animals and may have driven some endangered species toward extinction," Nicholls said.


Nicholls' early look at the Australian bushfire season points to a less severe wildfire season across Australia later in 2020 heading into early 2021.

"There will likely still be wildfires across Australia, but the number and severity of the fires should be less than this past fire season, especially in southeast Australia," he said.

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