El Nino adds concern for longer drought

Posted January 18, 2016

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Drought conditions continue to stress regional Queensland communities in the face of a weak wet season.

As at January 1, 2016 there were 36 councils and five part council areas drought declared, with 40 Individually Droughted Properties in a further seven council areas.

“No good will come of it. We’re in fairly historic times now,” North Queensland Local Government Association president Frank Beveridge said in late 2015.

“This is the third year of failed wet season in North Queensland.”

Cr Beveridge, the Mayor of Charters Towers Regional Council, said 2015 had been only the second time since the Burdekin Falls Dam was completed in 1987 that water had failed to flow over the spillway all year.

While the prolonged dry was very tough for local graziers, he said lack of water also increased the operating costs of some regional mining operations and caused significant issues for councils.

“Every council that has a large road network, and of course we’re one of them, is suffering significant issues because you can’t build roads without water,” he said.

“So all the maintenance programs have suffered and the cost of transporting water to jobs is double or triple what it was.”

He said the very long turnaround times waiting for water trucks to source increasingly scarce water supplies during road works had been a major problem for many councils.

A number of regional councils were having to pay more for water for their townships and cities than they normally would, Cr Beveridge said.

The dry conditions would see more councils attempting to drought proof at least their town water supply, he said .

“At the moment we’re putting a proposal to the State Government to get an extra weir on the Burdekin River so our farmers can get more water,” Cr Beveridge said.

Climatologist Roger Stone said a classic El Nino event had been affecting Australia since autumn 2015 and should start to disintegrate in autumn this year.

But there had been a precursor event in 2014, when a CP (Central Pacific) El Nino started to dry out Queensland and parts of New South Wales.

“The CP El Nino already started to affect us back in 2014, so unfortunately that didn’t set us up well for this more classic El Nino which is now upon us - we were already in a poor position before this classic El Nino developed in May (2015),” he said.

Prof Stone, who is director for the International Centre for Applied Climate Sciences at the University of Southern Queensland, said the current El Nino could be expected to weaken the wet season and delay its onset in northern Queensland.

“That’s going to be the main impact I think, a delay to the wet season exacerbating the intensity of the drought around places like Longreach, up through the central west and in to Charters Towers,” he said.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts fewer tropical cyclones in the 2015–16 season, as the strong El Nino continues to dominate.

BOM manager of climate prediction Dr Andrew Watkins said the long-term average number of tropical cyclones in Australia during the November to April cyclone season was 11.

“While El Niño is typically associated with fewer cyclones and a later start to the season, there has never been a cyclone season without at least one tropical cyclone crossing the Australia coast,” he warned.

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