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El Niño warning expected to extend drought until end of year

The Bureau of Meteorology has warned that El Niño may hit Australia before the end of the year, extending the burdens on drought-affected areas

Farmers and rural residents may not get any relief from the drought as the Bureau of Meteorology warns the likelihood of an El Niño has tripled.

Heatwaves and bushfires are predicted in southern Australia while cyclones may ease up in the north by the end of the year due to a 70 per cent chance of El Niño weather conditions. It will mean no relief for drought-affected areas before 2019.

Bureau of Meteorology Manager of Long-Range Forecasting, Dr Andrew Watkins, said the chances of weather improvement over the coming months would be very low.

“Like everyone in the Australian community, the Bureau of Meteorology is hoping regions being affected by drought will recover soon. However, if El Niño were to occur, we’re more likely to see drier and warmer than average conditions.”

Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology

El Niño is a natural phenomenon that sees the ocean surface temperature in the central to eastern Pacific become warmer than usual. It affects weather systems around the world, causing more rain in some regions and none in others.

Extreme weather severely impacts agriculture and fishing industries and causes crops to fail and livestock to die. Food production is therefore depleted and water supplies become scarce, which could see food insecurity hit a new peak.

Donors have been urged to consider the communities most at risk during the drought with charities across the country launching appeals to raise critical funds.

Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) CEO, Natalie Egleton, said: “When farmers experience prolonged drought, the whole community struggles – the local school, the pub, the vet, the newsagent, the supermarket and sports clubs.

“Money dries up for the things that keep community members connected and supported – just when they need it most.”

The last El Niño in Australia occurred in 2015/16 and cut agriculture production across the country, which then in turn affected exports. In 2018, Australia endured its driest September since rainfall records began in 1900.

Bureau Climatologist, Robyn Duell, said: “Between the (above average) temperature and the lack of rainfall, this is not good news. This outlook on the back of such little rainfall and dry conditions makes it such a worry for people.”

The Bureau is also monitoring developments in the Indian Ocean where a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) event is being predicted by international models, in which warmer waters near Africa drag moisture from Australia.

“A positive IOD event would typically mean more widespread below average rainfall. However, if a positive IOD event was to develop we would expect to see it disappear by the end of spring with the onset of the northern monsoon,” Watkins said.

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