/Rainfall helps fires but not drought

Rainfall helps fires but not drought

Large swathes of eastern Victoria, eastern NSW and eastern Queensland are expected to get at least 20mm in the next week, and some isolated falls will deliver 100mm.

Mr Jones expected these heavy falls in coastal NSW and Queensland particularly.

Further, the forecast for the next week predicts rain over most fire zones. It will be hit-and-miss where it lands, however, with isolated storms expected.

The NSW Rural Fire Service welcomed this week’s rain.

“It won’t put all these fires out but certainly it’s slowed them right down and I think it’s given a significant morale boost,” RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said.

“We’ve had rainfall on most fires now – at least 10mm – and particularly in the south in areas where it’s harder to get to, in the Kosciuszko ranges. They’re the ones we’re quite happy there’s been some rainfall.”

There is more to come, as well.

However, the rain didn’t stop residents of several towns in north-east Victoria from being told to evacuate to stay safe from an out-of-control bushfire south of Myrtleford on Friday afternoon.

The towns of Buffalo Creek, Buffalo River, Merriang, Merriang South and Nug Nug were told to leave, as the fire’s intensity was expected to grow from strong southerly winds.

Emergency Management Victoria further warned residents there was a high chance of spot fires in Buffalo Valley if a fire tornado emerged.

Victoria also recorded heavy rains across the week. Friday provided a welcome reprieve from flash flooding, smoke haze and lightning igniting fires, as both bushfires and storms have plagued the state this week.

The break will not last long, however.

Easterly winds will likely bring the smoke back to Melbourne and central Victoria from the state’s eastern fires zones on Saturday, when air quality is expected to again plummet to very poor or hazardous levels.

Follow-up rain key to drought

Chris Wallace, seasonal conditions reporting coordinator at the Department of Primary Industries, said the amount of rain needed to break the drought came down to several variables including ground cover, evaporation, and how the rain fell.

“It’s not an exact science and every situation is going to be different.”

Patches of heavy rain last year, for example, were not in the right circumstances or followed up by enough rain to dent the drought.

“It’s all about the consistency of rainfall, and we did see events last year where we saw rain from a meteorological perspective, but we didn’t see that translate into practical outcomes such as making grass grow,” Mr Wallace said.

Rain fills the dam at Battalion Herefords, at Dundee, Northern NSW.
 Grant Kneipp

The high variability of terrain, soil type and species across NSW made predicting an end to the drought even more difficult.

Both Mr Wallace and Mr Jones were hopeful that changing global weather drivers meant that better rainfall would continue, too.

“The big climate drivers last year meant we had a high chance of receiving less rainfall, but now we are seeing a breakdown of those events to be more neutral.”

Drivers affecting rainfall included the behaviour of the El Nino and La Nina phenomena and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, which brought dry conditions.

Mr Wallace said the return to neutrality led to the current short-term forecast of a higher chance of rainfall and air moisture than experienced for much of last year.

“We’re expecting fairly regular summer rainfall for the next couple of months,” Mr Jones said, pointing to the easing of these drivers as a cause.

“The very dry conditions we were forecasting month after month before aren’t there anymore.”

On Friday, there were 79 bushfires burning in NSW with 30 out of control. In Victoria, there were 20 active fires being fought by 1500 firefighters, with six ‘watch and act’ alerts in place.