Australia is forecast to receive below average rainfall for the next six to 12 months, potentially extending the drought and increasing the risk of bushfires.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) strongly believes that an El Nino weather pattern will settle across the western Pacific in winter and spring, causing drier than average conditions for Australia.
The news could not have come at a worse time for Australia’s landholders, many of whom are already battling severe drought and in Queensland one of the worst and widest droughts on record.
“Drier and warmer conditions in the winter and spring is clearly detrimental to agriculture,” said Dr David Jones, the BoM’s head of climate monitoring and predictions.
“We know Australia is a dry continent, and while every El Nino doesn’t necessarily translate into drought, many of them do.”
Dr Jones stressed that an El Nino was not totally guaranteed this year and that even if it does occur, it does not guarantee severe drought.
But “it quite significantly shifts the odds in favour of Australia being drier than average and also warmer than average, particularly in winter and spring,” he added.
Parts of Australia, including large swathes of Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Victoria are already in drought after suffering below average rainfall for the past 16 months.
NSW Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson pointed out that previous long-term climate forecasts have been wrong.
But she said about 60 per cent of NSW is now drought-affected and will worsen if more rain doesn’t materialise.
“If we don’t get the winter rainfall then we’re going to very quickly see those drought conditions extend,” she told AAP.
“It’s a situation that could blow-out exponentially.”
Dr Jones said the weather pattern could last up to a year before conditions return to “neutral” again.
Drier weather over winter and spring is also likely to heighten the risk of bushfires, and Dr Jones said there was a risk of the fire season starting earlier than usual.