December 5, 2006
Australia's drought will continue at least until March, the World Meteorological Organisation predicted yesterday as it revealed unusually high sea temperatures in the Pacific.
The tropical Pacific basin is in the grip of a drought-inducing El Nino climate event, the Geneva-based WMO said, with ocean temperatures already 1C to 1.5C higher than usual - and set to rise over summer.
A modest further intensification of El Nino was expected over the next three months, the organisation said in its latest El Nino update.
While the UN's weather bureau predicted an increase in oceanic temperatures, its computer modelling suggested they were not likely to rise much higher than 1.5C above normal temperatures between December and February.
But it said this did not give cause for complacency.
Unusual and sometimes severe climate patterns are known to have occurred during El Nino events of the current magnitude.
The WMO said the duration of this El Nino would depend on climatic developments in the Pacific between March and May next year.
The worst-case scenario of El Nino conditions stretching 12-18 months, as happened in 1986-87, is unusual but cannot be ruled out.
Australia's Bureau of Meteorology warned yesterday that the drought had taken a distinct turn for the worst since August, with a near-total failure of the late-winter and spring rains.
South Australia, southwest Queensland, southern Western Australia, and the tablelands and western slopes between the ACT and Dubbo, in central NSW, were in the grip of the worst spring drought on record, the bureau said.
Over the past four months, the Murray-Darling Basin had experienced its second-driest spring on record, with Victoria suffering its fourth-driest period.
Across Australia, the spring drought has been the third-most severe since the bureau started keeping records in 1900.
It has also been remarkably warm over this period, with mean maximum temperatures being the highest on record (for the post-1950 era) averaged over Australia in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin, the weather bureau said.
In NSW and the Northern Territory, the maximum temperatures were the second-highest on record.