December Rain Helps Many Australian Farmers but West Stays Dry

AAP / Nuno Avendano via Reuters, File
Floodwater is seen at Lake Placid in Cairns, Australia, on Dec. 18.

CANBERRA (Reuters) — Large parts of southern and eastern Australia saw above average rainfall in December, causing flooding in some areas but helping many farmers, while western areas remained parched, the country’s weather bureau said on Jan. 9.

Southern and eastern Australia experienced a cyclone and repeated deluges in which several people died last month, but Western Australia received 40.6% less than its average December rainfall, the bureau said.

With the Northern Territory and Tasmania also dry, nationwide rainfall was 1.9% below the 1961-1990 average in December.

The wet end to the year capped a roller-coaster 2023, which began with floods but saw the driest three-month period on record between August and September, shrinking production of wheat, barley and canola and scorching pastures.

Widespread rain toward year-end lifted prospects for summer crops such as sorghum and cotton and helped livestock farmers who were worried they would not have enough grass.

Australia is a major exporter of agricultural products.

Total rainfall for 2023 was 1.7% above the 1961-1990 average and the year was Australia’s equal eighth-warmest on record, the bureau said.

“Since November, areas of [rainfall] deficiency have generally expanded or intensified in Western Australia, but have cleared or eased in northern, southern and eastern Australia except for parts of northeast New South Wales, and northwest Tasmania,” the bureau said on Jan. 9.

It added that an El Nino weather event continued in the Pacific Ocean, but a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) phenomenon that cools surface water in the eastern Indian Ocean was weakening. Both El Nino, which warms sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific, and a positive IOD typically bring drier conditions to Australia.

January-to-March rainfall is likely to be below median levels across much of northern and western Australia and above median levels across the country’s southeast, the bureau forecast.