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Summer outlook from Bureau of Meteorology suggests hot, dry times to continue

Kate Doyle, Thursday November 28, 2019 - 11:15 EDT
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Dry conditions are set to continue into the new year. - ABC

Summer is looking hot for most of the country and dry for the east, according to the Bureau of Meteorology's summer outlook.



Going in, swathes of the country are parched, water storages are down, streams are running low and fires are burning.

This drought is now comparable with the big droughts of the past and this outlook suggests that isn't improving any time soon.

But there is a distant glimmer of hope.



What's the outlook?

Andrew Watkins, head of long-range forecasts at the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), said the overall outlook for summer is generally warmer than normal conditions over much of the country, with particularly dry conditions for the east.

"The highest chances of it being drier than normal, unfortunately, are in those drought areas through central New South Wales, southern Queensland and eastern Victoria," he said.



For the rest of the country he said central Australia is a bit more towards average rainfall, and there is a possibility of some wetter-than-normal conditions for parts of the western coastline.

Daytime temperatures are highly likely to be above average for most of the country but Tasmania, parts of south-west Victoria and south-east South Australia could avoid above-average nights.



Spring has not been kind for those looking for rain



According to Dr Watkins it's probably going to come in as one of the driest springs on record for Australia as a whole. The official result won't be official until the data from the last few days of November comes through.

It hasn't just been dry in the drought regions of New South Wales and Queensland.

"We know that around 90 per cent of our streams and rivers are low at the moment, we know that many of our water catchments are below 50 per cent now," he said.

Even without the numbers, the dryness has been evident in the fires and the dust storms.

"We are entering summer in a difficult position."



Fire conditions set to continue

The climate conditions that led to the dry spring and the dangerous fire conditions of the last few weeks are set to continue into the start of summer.

"We probably have a few more weeks of those conditions yet," Dr Watkins said.



One of the strongest positive Indian Ocean Dipoles on record is still going on.

The positive Indian Ocean Dipole is when there are warm waters off Africa and cooler waters near Australia, causing clouds and moisture over the Horn of Africa but discouraging rain here.

The positive Indian Ocean Dipole is usually broken down by the monsoon moving south

The other driver at work is the Southern Annular Mode (SAM), which operates over the southern ocean.



It is currently in an unusually long negative phase, driven by and encouraging strong westerly winds over southern Australia.

Further exacerbating those fire conditions.

"While that negative SAM pattern remains and we're getting fewer winds off the ocean and more of those westerly winds — unfortunately, the dangerous fire conditions are likely to continue," Dr Watkins said.



"We might not see that pattern really break down until later in December."



But there is a distant glimmer of hope

Both the Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annular Mode are expected to break down mid-way through summer, leading to more normal conditions.

"The driest pockets will contract further east as we go along as those drivers start to fade," Dr Watkins said.

A welcome reprieve from above average, but normal conditions for a southern Australian summer are still hot and dry.

Widespread drought-breaking conditions are not on the forecast.



How bad is the drought compared to the past?

It is difficult to compare droughts. They affect different areas, with different severity over different time scales.

Mandy Freund, of the University of Melbourne, studies past Australian climates.



She said that if you look at only the instrumental record, the current drought is the worst over a 36-month period, but if you took into account other climate data, 36-month periods of the Federation Drought were worse.

"In the past 400 years, so from 1600 until 1900, there is some evidence that those kinds of dry periods have occurred at 3 times, but not as severe as the Federation drought and the current drought," she said.

According to Dr Freund, the current drought is now comparable but the Federation drought was more intense and longer.



She said it is very hard to compare the Millennium Drought with the current drought conditions. The Millennium Drought lasted for almost a decade but had some wet years/seasons.

"The Millennium Drought was very intense due to its severe cool-season rainfall deficit. This is similar to the current dry conditions, which is most pronounced during the cool months, but, so far, the current dry conditions have 'only' lasted about 36 months, after a lot of rainfall in 2016 due to La Nina conditions."

La Nina is a climate driver which encourages wet conditions but Dr Watkins said it is not on the cards again in the near future.

"At the moment, we'd all have our fingers crossed for La Nina of course, that might bring a bit more rain and some cooler temperatures, but at the moment it's looking neutral into autumn," Dr Watkins said.

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- ABC

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