Eastern Australia’s crippling drought, which has wilted crops and threatened livestock, will continue to intensify for at least the next three months, according to the country’s meteorological bureau. The entire Australian state of New South Wales — which accounts for a quarter of the country’s agricultural output by value — is currently experiencing drought conditions. Half of neighboring Queensland is in drought, as well as parts of Victoria and South Australia.
“Now we are the land of droughts,” Malcolm Turnbull, then Australia’s prime minister, said earlier this month while announcing new emergency funding for farmers.
The country’s current drought conditions have been developing for years. Australia experienced its hottest winter on record in 2017, with average maximum temperatures 2 degrees Celsius above normal. South Australia then had its second driest autumn on record in 2018, with rainfall measuring 57 mm (2.24 inches) below average. Less than 10 millimeters of rain fell in the region last month.
The dry conditions have led to widespread crop failures, including wheat, one of the region’s staple crops. Farmers have struggled to feed and water their livestock.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology estimates an 80 percent chance of drier-than-average conditions along much of the country’s east coast over the next three months. It also estimated that dry weather could hit western Australia, another major agricultural zone, Reuters reported. Forecasters said there is a 50 percent chance for an El Niño in the coming months, which would bring hot and dry conditions that could extend Australia’s drought even longer, possibly into next year.
“An El Nino basically means that as we get into summer there’d be less chance of having those recovery rains that we need and we may have to wait till autumn in 2019 to start seeing some recovery rains in the drought areas,” Andrew Watkins, manager of long-range forecasts at the Bureau of Meteorology, told Reuters.