Worst drought in 70 years, more in fu­ture

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY -

THE Government de­clared a state of drought in the Buller and Grey Dis­tricts on the West Coast last week.

Pri­mary In­dus­tries Min­is­ter Nathan Guy said the de­ci­sion was made af­ter a Grey­mouth meet­ing where farm­ers called for it.

‘‘The rain over the last week has not been enough to help th­ese dis­tricts, and there is only lim­ited rain forecast,’’ he said.

‘‘It is very un­usual for the West Coast to ex­pe­ri­ence drought con­di­tions and is not some­thing that lo­cal farm­ers are used to. It shows just how ex­treme this dry pe­riod has been.’’

He had been in touch with the Ru­ral Sup­port Trust and Fed­er­ated Farm­ers to get a feel for the sit­u­a­tion on the ground and he was con­cerned to hear of frosts this week – a sign win­ter was on its way, which will slow pas­ture re­cov­ery.

The de­ci­sion means ex­tra fund­ing will be avail­able to the Ru­ral Sup­port Trust and open the way to Ru­ral As­sis­tance Pay­ments from Work and In­come.

The en­tire North Is­land re­mains in a state of drought.

Dry forecast

Weather ex­perts have bad news for farm­ers strug­gling to cope with drought through­out the coun­try – no rain is likely for at least an­other 10 days.

How­ever, Na­tional In­sti­tute of Water and At­mo­spheric Re­search ( Niwa) sci­en­tists say long- term prospects – for the March to May pe­riod – are for nearnor­mal rain­fall.

Even that forecast is hedged with cau­tion. Cli­mate sci­en­tist Brett Mul­lan told a me­dia con­fer­ence that Niwa was not fore­cast­ing near-nor­mal rain.

‘‘ But it is more likely. Think of it as a dart­board – if you are throw­ing a dart at it you are more likely to hit near-nor­mal.’’

He de­scribed the drought, which cov­ers al­most all of the North Is­land and much of the South Is­land, as the ‘‘worst or equal worst in 70 years’’.

This was based on of­fi­cial records go­ing back to 1972 and on data from iso­lated farms start­ing in the 1940s.

It was com­pa­ra­ble in many re­gions to a se­vere 1946 drought.

Sci­en­tist An­drew Tait charted the progress of the drought from the start of the year to a peak on March 16 in North­land, Auck­land, Waikato and the east­ern North Is­land.

Rain this week of 30 to 50 mil­lime­tres was only ‘‘a lit­tle bit of help’’.

‘‘It will take heavy rain­fall through­out March and April to get soil-mois­ture lev­els back to where they would nor­mally be at this time of year,’’ he said.

Niwa hy­drol­o­gist Roddy Hen­der­son said river flows in 300 key catch­ments around New Zealand were in the bot­tom 10 per cent of all Fe­bru­ar­ies on record.

Such droughts were likely to be­come more fre­quent, chief cli­mate sci­en­tist David Wratt said.

This year, high-pres­sure belts in the trop­ics had ex­panded fur­ther south than nor­mal and this would be­come more com­mon.

Work on the ef­fect of ris­ing green­house gas emis­sions showed a one-in-20year drought would oc­cur at least twice as of­ten in the 2080s in parts of Otago, Can­ter­bury, Marl­bor­ough, Wairarapa, Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty and North­land.

He said Niwa was work­ing on im­prov­ing its fore­cast­ing, look­ing up to two weeks ahead.

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