Not the Worst Drought in 80 Years

Last night on the 7.00 p.m. ABC TV Queensland news there was a report on the Annual Climate Statement 2014 released by the Bureau of Meteorology yesterday (January 6).  I could not believe my ears, and as soon as it was on iview ( http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/abc-news-qld/NC1530Q005S00 ) I checked- several times.

The reader, Matt Wordsworth, clearly reports that the Bureau says Queensland has experienced “the worst drought in 80 years”.  The Bureau’s Jeff Sabburg was interviewed and claimed that 37.3% of the state was covered by the lowest rainfall on record.

Now I do know that much of Queensland has been very dry for a long time, with the northwest being especially bad, having missed two wet seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14).  Before you think I am callous, uncaring, and uninformed, I should let you know I was raised on a farm, my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were farmers, my brother and my brother-in-law are farmers, and I take a very keen interest in the land.

However, both the ABC news item and Jeff Sabburg’s claim, if quoted correctly, are complete nonsense.  Nothing like 37% of the State has had the lowest rainfall on record, and the drought is definitely not “the worst … in 80 years”.  The facts from the Bureau’s own websites (Climate Maps and Climate Change and Variability) show otherwise.

There follows a series of graphics clearly showing the state of Queensland’s rainfall and drought record.

Fig. 1:  12 month rainfall deficiency

qld 12m drought

Obviously recent rain has improved the situation, but what about over the last two years?

Fig. 2: 24 month rainfall deficiency

qld 24m drought

A-hah, that’s showing quite a lot of serious and severe rainfall deficiency, but not a lot of “lowest on record”.  However, compare that with the 24 month period to December 2003.

Fig.3:  24 months to December 2003

qld 24m drought 2003

I have been looking at Queensland rainfall closely in the past couple of weeks.  Here are some other ways of showing rainfall for Queensland.   I have shown 2013-2014 and 1929-1935 (the supposed 80 year ago worse drought), and more recent events, for ease of comparison.

Fig. 4: 12 month running mean of rain anomalies

qld rain 12m

Fig. 5:  24 month running mean of rain anomalies

qld rain 24m

Fig. 6:  27 month running mean of rain anomalies (covering the previous two wet seasons)

qld rain 27m

There was nothing unusual about Queensland’s rain in 2014.

The next graphics are plots of the 12 month counts of 12 month running means of rainfall with below average (bottom 30%), very much below average (bottom 10%), and severe deficiency (bottom 5%) rainfall.  In other words, counts of 12 month periods (January – December, February – January, March – February etc) with rainfall in each category.

Fig. 7: Count of 12 month periods of below average rain (lowest 30% of 12 month periods)

qld drought counts 12m belavg

Fig. 8: Count of 12 month periods of very much below average rain (lowest 10% of periods)

qld drought counts 12m verybelow

Fig. 9: Count of 12 month periods of severe rain deficiency (lowest 5% of periods)

qld drought counts 12m severe

There have been no episodes of statewide severe rain deficiency since January 2004.

Fig. 10: Count of 12 month periods of 24 month below average rain (lowest 30% of 24m periods)

qld drought counts 24m belavg

Fig. 11: Count of 12 month periods of 24 month very much below average rain (lowest 10% of periods)

qld drought counts 24m verybelow

Fig. 12: Count of 12 month periods of 24 month severe rain deficiency (lowest 5% of periods)

qld drought counts 24m severe

Fig. 13: Count of 12 month periods of 27 month below average rain (lowest 30% of 27m periods)

qld drought counts 27m belavg

Fig. 14: Count of 12 month periods of 27 month very much below average rain (lowest 10% of periods)

 qld drought counts 27m verybelow

Fig. 15: Count of 12 month periods of 27 month severe rain deficiency (lowest 5% of periods)

qld drought counts 27m severe

And just for information, this map shows the 36 month rainfall deficiencies to December 1902.

Fig. 16:  36 months to December 1902- the Federation Drought

qld 1902 36m drought

Now that’s a drought!

The current drought, bad as it is, barely rates when compared with previous droughts.

Perhaps the Bureau is using different data from what is shown on their websites.  Perhaps Jeff Sabburg was quoted out of context.  Whichever way, the public has been misled- not for the first time, and unfortunately not the last.

The Bureau of Meteorology should issue an immediate clarification, and the ABC should issue an immediate apology and correction.

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10 Responses to “Not the Worst Drought in 80 Years”

  1. Warwick Hughes Says:

    Thanks for going through all that Ken – it is hard to comprehend how with all the data on the BoM www site they can get it so wrong.

  2. DaveR Says:

    Well done Ken.

    We should all lobby to restore the Federation Drought data to the official BOM record. The BOM says the records are “unreliable” so they ignore them and usually pick their data series start dates after 1902.

    They think Australians will swallow that!

  3. ABC reply to my complaint | kenskingdom Says:

    […] A Reality Check on Global Warming « Not the Worst Drought in 80 Years […]

  4. Peter Carabot Says:

    I have emailed a query to BOM about the BS in the temperature records. Still waiting for an answer…..(Not holding my breath)

  5. Bernd Felsche Says:

    Reblogged this on contrary2belief and commented:
    ABC fail again in its basic duty to journalism.

    George Orwell said:
    “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.”

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    […] last- 15 days after their widely publicised initial claims (through Mr Jeff Sabburg) that in 2014 Queensland had rain deficiencies not seen since the […]

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