Jane Austen lamented the hot weather for keeping one in a “continual state of inelegance.” Drought-affected Australians then must be a dishevelled lot — perhaps it’s all that bucket toting — and we’ve been looking to the heavens to save us from recycled drinking water.

At the Crikey bunker, in a secret location somewhere on the continent’s southern fringe, our personal barometers have this morning registered a change of seasons: the humidity’s dropped and the air is cooler. So has anything changed? Last week, weather forecasters were quietly confident of increased rainfall thanks to the passing of drought-bringer El Nino (at least in Australia).

Sydney’s 18.2 mm over the weekend seemed to live up to the promise. But in reality, rain fell where you’d expect it — along the NSW coast. So it’s not yet a case of ding dong the drought is dead.

In early February, long-range weather forecaster John Moore, who covers the areas of SA, NSW and Victoria, reckoned a “90% probability that there will be drought breaking rains in the period 23rd of February to the 5th of March 2007” as well as a “75% probability of follow up rains in later March and April”.

But is he still on song? I think so, Moore told Crikey this morning. “It may take a couple of weeks or so” but with El Nino breaking down, “we’re on track”. If we “got good rains through March and April and they continued into May and June”, he says, “by July things would have changed”.

Still, don’t be fooled, Moore’s not talking water storage — it could still “take a couple of years” to rebuild levels.  

Over at the Bureau of Meteorology — a place where drought-affected areas have rainfall deficiencies — they’re much more circumspect. There are no quick fixes, explains Dr Grant Beard, senior climatologist at BOM. And in most places, there won’t be a sudden moment when we know it’s over; It will just sort of happen, eventually.

Inland of the Divide, it will take “several years of above average rainfall” to break the drought “over the long-term”. Along the east coast, however, they might get a Hollywood ending of sorts — east coast lows could help fill catchments to halfway or more in “one major rainfall event”. But, there’ll be “no torrential rain like that away from the east coast, except in very rare circumstances”.

Looking to the heavens seems like it’s still our best option.

Peter Fray

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