Monday, April 22, 2024

Drier drier, plants on fire as El Niño takes hold

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Phil Duncan has a conversation that highlights how farmers and forecasters can work together intelligently.
Bush fires near Toowoomba on October 30, 2023 with blazes continuing in other parts of South West Queensland. Photo: Facebook/Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
Reading Time: 2 minutes

By Philip Duncan, WeatherWatch

Bush fires are raging across a large part of eastern Australia and the hot, dry conditions that have persisted there in recent months, in particular in Queensland, are now taking their toll. 

For months now WeatherWatch has been receiving comments from our Australian audience about how tough and worrisome El Niño is becoming.

Then you cross the Tasman Sea back home and what do we hear? “Will it ever stop raining?” 

The next two weeks’ rainfall shows more classic westerlies returning, producing more rain on the West Coast and driest in the north and east of both islands. However the North Island has the chance of some extra afternoon downpours bubbling up around the ranges.

For the rest of this year I’m part of a weekly podcast at, along with AgriHQ analyst Suz Bremner, to discuss how El Niño is tracking each week in relation to the latest weather we’re receiving here in NZ and nearby. 

In our most recent episode, Steve Wyn-Harris joins us to challenge the current conditions vs the forecast ahead. It’s a really fascinating short listen and, for those who are particularly new to farming in the past decade or so, you may really find this helpful in preparing for the worst – while also not getting too carried away with a forecast that no one, not even myself, can be 100% sure of.

Steve’s reflection on previous El Niño and La Niña events is an eye-opener to anyone who is farming or growing in New Zealand and it really confirms something WeatherWatch has been saying for years: our location on Earth, halfway between the equator and Antarctica and partially in the Roaring Forties belt of weather, means that the chaos we have adds another layer of complexity to the situation – but that does NOT mean the forecasts are all wrong and should be ignored. 

Steve and I could’ve talked on this podcast for an hour, getting more and more passionate about the conversation!  

In my case, it’s rare to meet a farmer who is both being sceptical about the long-range forecast but also taking it very seriously. That’s the same world that I live in as a forecaster trying my best to help people – we don’t blindly trust data, but we must also have some faith in it. 

There are so many variables – and having variables (for example, a tropical low that forms during El Niño when many of us think they won’t be so likely) does NOT undo the higher risks of dry weather and drought and long-range forecasts.  Variables are our friend.

The podcast with Steve really highlights how farmers, growers and forecasters can work together intelligently – without anyone expecting to know the perfect 100% answer. 

It’s about collective best thinking – and I highly recommend you take a listen to the most recent El Niño Watch episode.

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