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La Niña delivers best wet season in four years for Kimberley cattle stations and native wildlife

Sunday May 2, 2021 - 22:06 EST

As the northern wet season ends, pastoralists, tourism operators and ecologists are celebrating the best wet season across the Kimberley region in four years.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the influence of the La Niña contributed to the highest rainfall total across northern WA since the 2016?17 wet season.

There were significant falls across the northern and central Kimberley, with most places receiving between 100-150 per cent of their average rainfall across the region.

Mount Hart Station recorded the highest total of 1740.7mm, almost double its average rainfall, closely followed by Theda and Truscott which recorded 1494 millimetres and 1404.4 mm respectively.

A stark contrast to years past

Senior climatologist Greg Browning said the 2021-21 wet season was a stark contrast to this time last year, when several places like Fitzroy Crossing had recorded record low rainfall.

"There was major improvement on recent wet seasons, with above average rainfall filling up some dams, rivers and storages," he said.

"Most places are generally in that 100 to 150 per cent of their long-term average, compared to last year when a lot of those places were between 5--70 per cent."

In the East Kimberley near Kununurra, the Lake Argyle Storage Dam was a big winner from the extensive wet season, after reaching its lowest level in almost 30 years.

The dam, which feeds into the Ord Irrigation Scheme. received a 3829.94 gigalitre top up which has taken it up to 81 per cent capacity.

When stations become islands

The heavy rainfall this wet season saw many local river catchments flood, leaving many properties like remote islands, cut off from access roads for months.

Despite the inconvenience, pastoral stations and tourism operators in the region have said it was a small price to pay to see rivers flowing and green feed flourishing again.

Along the Gibb River Road, Ellenbrae Station recorded more than 1284.2 mm since October 1, making it one of their best wet seasons yet.

"Its been probably five years since the last time we've seen a wet like this," said station manager Larissa Walker.

"It was a surprising sight for us at the peak of the rain, we turned into an island?we woke up one morning and saw water right out the front of the deck.

"It certainly has created a few challenges but it's wonderful to see all the rain that has been around."

A boost for stations and wildlife

Larissa and her husband Logan Walker have been taking in tourists and local adventurers for more than five years at Ellenbrae Station, located around 230 kilometres from Kununurra.

Ms Walker said the COVID-19 pandemic forced closures along the popular tourist track last year, so it was good to see the landscape looking rejuvenated as they prepare for a bumper season with the re-opening of the Gibb River Road this week.

In the heart of the Fitzroy Valley, ecologists at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary welcomed 1,182 mm of rain, which is almost three times the 404mm that fell in 2018/19.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy ecologist Susie Stockwell said the much-needed rain had revitalised landscapes and provided favourable conditions for threatened wildlife to flourish.

"We expect to see massive changes in the abundance of local species over the next 12 months, particularly among threatened small mammals and birds such as the Gouldian Finch and Purple-crowned Fairywren," she said.

Ms Stockwell said after several significant floods, the Fitzroy River had been transformed into a fast-flowing torrent, a dramatic change from the string of still pools which were present late last year.

However, heavy rainfall did come at a cost for the non-for-profit, creating extensive damage to their tourism facilities at Mornington Wilderness Camp and the access road, which bore the brunt of flash-flooding in March.

North west regional operations manager Aled Hoggett said the eight-week clean-up had delayed the start of their tourism season, however repairs were almost complete.

La Niña delivers across the north-west

Mr Browning said despite some significant rainfall totals this wet, the late developing La Niña wasn't as strong as in the 2010-11 season.

However it did deliver consistent and widespread monsoonal activity across the season, despite a lack of tropical cyclone activity in the north of the state.

This also brought above average rain further south in the Pilbara and Gascoyne, where many properties were facing rain deficiencies.

"Looking at rainfall deficiencies over the last 12 months leading into this wet season, especially around the Gascoyne, some of those places were almost the lowest on record for that period," said Mr Browning.

"There's some areas that may have longer term rainfall deficiencies but it did make a significant difference for a lot of those places that were really suffering." 

Some of the standout totals were recorded in the East Pilbara at Mount Florance 613.9mm, Nullagine 605.6mm, Marble Bar 594.8 mm, Karijini North 464.4 mm and in the Gascoyne Hill Springs recorded 427.5 mm, Winderie 335.8 mm and Gascoyne Junction 325.1 mm.

Mr Browning said typically in a year following a La Nina, the region experienced cooler temperatures.

However, he said it had left a legacy of warm waters across parts of coastal northern WA, which means there's still the chance of more shower activity as the region transitions into the dry season.


© ABC 2021

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