The Bureau of Meteorology’s winter outlook is here, and while it’s not bad news for farmers needing rain, they have been advised to view it with a degree of caution.
- The north, centre and east of Australia could see above-average rainfall
- Most of the country can also expect warmer-than-average nights
- One note of caution is that climate outlooks often have low accuracy at this time of year
The quarterly projection is suggesting above-average winter rain for northern, central and eastern Australia but below-average falls for parts of the west.
We could also be in for some less-freezing-than-usual nights, according to BOM climatologist Naomi Benger.
“Nights are likely to be warmer than average for most of Australia, and daytime temperatures are likely to be above average for many parts of Australia, especially those closer to the coast,” she said.
With the big climate drivers in neutral this season, the main push behind the forecast conditions are above-average ocean temperatures.
Dire situation for cropping
Any rain would be welcome for farmers like Joylene Button at Urania on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula.
“It’s fairly dire at the moment,” she said.
They finished seeding on Monday, only to have the topsoil and what little moisture it had whipped away the following day by strong winds as a cold front passed through.
Fifteen millimetres of rain in its wake was meager compensation.
Ms Button is not alone.
We are coming off the back of an incredibly dry April and May for most of the country’s south.
“Rainfall has been less than half of the rainfall that’s usual across southern Australia at that time,” Dr Benger said.
While Australia’s far east and west have had a surplus of rain at various times this year, the cropping regions in SA and western Victoria have largely missed out.
Low outlook accuracy
The BOM outlook is not terrible, but there is little chance of rain in the coming week — and it is worth taking this outlook with a grain of salt.
“When you click on the accuracy button in the BOM’s outlooks for SA for June, for example, the accuracy is very poor,” said Melissa Rebbeck, director of Climate and Agriculture Support.
“In fact, guessing is better.”
Dr Benger said it was important to refer to past accuracy maps.
“Autumn’s a very difficult time for producing climate outlooks, because our oceans are undergoing so much change,” she said.
“Western Australia for June has very high accuracy, but central parts of the country and further to the east, the accuracy is a little bit lower.”
Ms Rebbeck said it was important for farmers to consider a range of factors when managing their properties.
“It’s a bit like being in a casino, trying to use all the information that we can to make a better-informed decision.”
Keep doing a rain dance
Being in this situation is not unusual.
According to Ms Rebbeck, only four seasons in the past 20 years met the conditions for a traditional break — good rainfall to kick off the winter cropping season by mid May.
A shorter season can mean lower yields, but it is not over yet.
“Farmers have adapted and become more flexible and robust to adapt their systems to manage for this,” Ms Rebbeck said.
Some of Ms Button’s crop is coming up, and at this point she is hoping it just keeps raining.
“I expect after the last day or so that we will get things going again, so we just hope we keep getting some regular rainfall to keep them going.”