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Ten years ago, La Nina drenched this property. This year, nothing but dust

Anthony Sharwood, Monday March 8, 2021 - 10:47 EDT

When outback cattle farmer Gillian Fennell heard that the summer of 2020/21 would be a La Niña summer, she allowed herself to dream.

Not too much, of course. Outback farming life soon breaks the hearts of anyone who puts too much faith in soaking rains. But just a little.

"We were quietly confident we might get a better season," Fennell told Weatherzone. We thought, it's been 10 years, it's our time to get some decent rainfall.”

Fennell and her husband Mark run a station in far northern South Australia, close to the Northern Territory border. The property is so vast, it's 61 kilometres from the front gate to the house.

Even in the driest year, the native herbage and mulga trees can support a herd of several thousand cattle, provided you feed the cattle the right supplements to help them digest it. Most water on the property comes from bores. But nothing refreshes the landscape and fills the dams like rain.

So what came on the weekend? Dust.

Image: Not exactly the sort of "storm" they were hoping for. Source: Gilliann Fennell.

Fennell has recorded just 35 mm of rain on her property so far this year, and all of that fell in on one day as storms passed through.

On Sunday after the brief dust storm, "a few spits" of rain barely wet the ground.

While large parts of Victoria, New South Wales, southern South Australia, and Tasmania all had above-average summer rainfall in 2020/21, northern South Australia is one area that has been bypassed by the wet stuff.

"The last time we got really decent rain was 10 years ago, after Cyclone Yasi," Fennell said.

The Bureau of Meteorology's map of rainfall deciles for the La Niña summer of 2010/11 (the summer of Yasi) illustrates that really well.

As you can see, pretty much the whole country copped above average rainfall.

Image: If only this summer looked like 10 years ago for farmers in northern SA. Source: Bureau of Meteorology.

Fennell's property in northern SA wasn't flooded because the sandy soils soak up rain like a giant sponge. But it was flourishing.

"For the first time in a long time, all our waterholes and creeks were full. We were looking forward to something similar this summer, but we haven't received it."

Despite missing out on the rain which so many other parts of the country have received this summer, Fennell battles on.

"We are very adept at managing low rainfall conditions, so we're doing quite well all things considered," she said.

"The stock are not suffering, but we are now concerned for the environment. We're starting to see native trees die and that sort of thing."

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