Posts Tagged ‘drought’

Drought and Climate Change Part 2: Rainfall deficiency

September 7, 2018

In my last post, I looked at long term rainfall trends across Southern, South Eastern, and South Western Australia, and found no cause for alarm at recent rainfall decline.  Droughts can occur at any time and cause much hardship across wide parts of the country.  Global Warming Enthusiasts are gnashing their teeth, believing man-made climate change is making droughts worse.  Greg Jericho in the Guardian wrote last Thursday 30th August, “If you are a prime minister going out to the rural areas and you’re not talking about climate change, and you’re not suggesting that droughts are more likely to occur and thus farmers need to take greater responsibility, then you are failing in your job.”

Are droughts really “more likely to occur” with climate change, and is there any evidence they are becoming more frequent, more intense, and more widespread with global warming?

The Bureau of Meteorology says:

Drought in general means acute water shortage.

The Bureau’s drought maps highlight areas considered to be suffering from a serious or severe rainfall deficiency…. for three months or more….

……

  • Serious rainfall deficiency: rainfall lies above the lowest five per cent of recorded rainfall but below the lowest ten per cent (decile range 1) for the period in question,
  • Severe rainfall deficiency: rainfall is among the lowest five per cent for the period in question.”

This map of meteorological drought (areas in the lowest ten and five percent of 12 months rainfall to 31 August) shows the extent across Australia:

Fig. 1:  Recent 12 month Rainfall Deficiency Australia

12m drought map

Parts of central and southern inland Queensland, parts of eastern South Australia, many parts of New South Wales, and small areas of Victoria are in drought.  Notice that the droughted areas are separated by areas that are not in drought.

But, but… all of NSW is in drought, isn’t it?

100% of NSW has been drought declared, and 54.7% of Queensland, and indeed some parts are in a very bad way.   But “drought declaration” is the term the media, politicians, and general public don’t understand.  They assume that because 100% of NSW is drought declared, this means all of NSW is in drought.  Not so.  Drought declaration is a political or at best administrative instrument for giving drought assistance to farmers and communities.  Some areas of Queensland that have not yet been drought declared really are in the grip of drought; some “drought declared” areas of NSW are not in drought, as this map of NSW (6 months March to August) shows:

Fig. 2: 6 month Rainfall deficiency NSW

NSW map 6m

Of course the blank areas have had below average rainfall, which may turn into full blown drought, so the NSW government is being proactive.  However, they are not at this time in meteorological drought with serious or severe rainfall deficiency.

Trends in Drought Incidence

In the bigger picture, how widespread, how intense, how long lasting, and how frequent are droughts becoming in Australia?  For this analysis I use monthly rainfall data from 1900 to July 2018 from the Bureau of Meteorology at their Climate Change page, and calculate the number of months where the rainfall total of the previous 12, 18, 24, or 36 months shows severe deficiency (in the lowest 5 percent of all months since 1900) or serious deficiency (in the lowest 10 percent).  (I am looking at droughts that last at least 12 months, not just short dry spells, and 12 months total rainfall includes rain in all seasons.)

I do this for various regions, as shown on the map below.

Fig. 3:  Australian Regions

Climate regions

I have plotted the number of consecutive months where the 12, 18, 24, and 36 month totals are in the lowest 5% and 10% of their respective values since 1900, and calculated the trend in months per century of increase or decrease. There are 96 plots, so I will only show a couple of examples, and summarise the results in Table 1 below.

Table 1:  Trends in Drought Incidence (Months per 100 Years) for various Australian Regions

Trend table

A negative trend indicates decreasing drought incidence, shaded green; a positive trend indicates increasing incidence, shaded pink.

Australia wide, and in the regions of Northern and Southern Australia and the Murray Darling Basin, and South Australia as a whole, since 1900 droughts of all lengths have become less frequent, and because these are broad regions, less widespread.  There is no evidence that climate change is making droughts more likely to occur, except for smaller areas (Victoria, Tasmania, and SW Australia) which have an increasing frequency of droughts of all lengths.

36 month dry periods are more frequent in SW Australia, SE Australia, Eastern Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, (and interestingly Queensland, but only for <10% deficiency).

Some examples will illustrate the complexity of the picture.

Fig. 4:  Number of consecutive months per calendar year of 12 months severe rain deficiency: Australia

12m 5% Aust

Fig. 5:  Periods of 36 months serious rain deficiency: Australia

36m 10% Aust

In the past droughts of all lengths and severity were more widespread across Australia.

Fig. 6:  Periods of 36 months severe rain deficiency: Southern Australia

36m 5% Sthn Aust

Similarly, multi-year periods of severe rain deficiency were much more frequent and widespread across Southern Australia before 1950.  In the last 50 years there has been only one month where the 36 month total was in the lowest 5th percentile.

Fig. 7:  Periods of 12 months severe rain deficiency: New South Wales

12m 5% NSW

Fig. 8:  Periods of 36 months severe rain deficiency: New South Wales

36m 5% NSW

Fig. 9:  Periods of 12 months serious rain deficiency: New South Wales

12m 10% MDB

Fig. 10:  Periods of 36 months serious rain deficiency: New South Wales

36m 10% NSW

Across NSW, 4 months of 2018 had 12 month totals in the serious deficiency range, but none in the severe range.  Droughts of all severity and duration have become less frequent and widespread.  The Millennium Drought lasted longer but was less severe than the Federation Drought.

The Murray-Darling Basin lies across four states including most of NSW, and is Australia’s premier food and fibre producing region.  The current drought is affecting many areas in this region.

Fig. 10:  Periods of 12 months severe rain deficiency: Murray-Darling Basin

12m 5% MDB

Fig. 11:  Periods of 12 months serious rain deficiency: Murray-Darling Basin

12m 10% MDB

Fig. 12:  Periods of 36 months serious rain deficiency: Murray-Darling Basin

36m 10% MDB

We can conclude from these plots of the Murray-Darling Basin that this drought is patchy, and while nasty, is not the most intense or long lasting even in living memory, let alone on record, and that droughts are becoming less frequent and less widespread.

Fig. 13:  Periods of 36 months severe rain deficiency: Queensland

36m 5% Qld

Fig. 14:  Periods of 36 months serious rain deficiency: Queensland

36m 10% Qld

Queensland has little trend in frequency of drought with severe deficiency over three years but less severe droughts have been more frequent- due to the droughts of the 1990s and the Millennium drought.

Fig. 15:  Periods of 36 months serious rain deficiency: Victoria

36m 10% Vic

The Millennium Drought stands out as the longest period of widespread serious rain deficiency.

Fig. 16:  Periods of 36 months serious rain deficiency: South-West Australia

36m 10% SW Oz

Here we see that all but one month of all the 36 month periods of serious rain deficiency have occurred since 1970, reflecting the marked drying trend.  This really is an example of climate changing.

Winter rainfall

Fig. 17:  Winter Rainfall Deciles across Australia, 2018

winter rain 2018

According to the Climate Council, “Climate change has contributed to a southward shift in weather systems that typically bring cool season rainfall to southern Australia.”  However the usual areas affected by this southwards shift, Tasmania, south-west Victoria, southern South Australia, and most of the south-west of Western Australia, have had an average to above average winter.  Droughted areas are to the north.   The southwards shift of weather systems caused by Climate Change cannot be claimed to have any part in this drought.

Drought is a dreadful calamity wherever and whenever it occurs.  And on top of other difficulties in Queensland is the bureaucratic approval process under Vegetation Management regulations before graziers can push mulga to feed starving stock.

This drought may get worse if a full El Nino develops.  It is unlikely to break before six months or even 18 months.  By then it will be much more severe and widespread.  However, climate change has not caused this drought.  While there is evidence for increasing drought frequency and thus likelihood of more drought in the future in Tasmania, southern Victoria, southern South Australia, and the south-west of Western Australia, across the rest of Australia there is strong evidence that droughts have become less frequent, less severe, less widespread, and shorter.  If climate change is claimed as the cause of increasing droughts in the far southern regions, then climate change must also be causing less frequent droughts across the vast bulk of Australia, where droughts are always “likely to occur”, but not “more likely”.

Advertisements

Drought and Climate Change Part 1: Long Term Rainfall

September 1, 2018

The current drought conditions in New South Wales and large parts of Queensland are getting a lot of media attention, and of course the usual suspects are linking it to climate change and our apparently “unambitious” emissions targets in the NEG.  But are droughts really becoming “the new normal”, and are they becoming more frequent, more intense, and more widespread with global warming?

There are two aspects to consider: long term rainfall trends in various regions, and periods of rainfall deficiency.  In this post I will look at long term rainfall, and Part 2 will look at rainfall deficiency i.e. drought incidence.

Long term rainfall trends

Everyone “knows” southern Australia is getting drier.  Paul West in Feeding Australia Pt 2 on the ABC says there has been a 28% decrease in rainfall over the past 30 years.  The Climate Council says “Over the past 30 years, there has been a discernible decrease in rainfall across southern Australia.” That’s their headline; in the details the Climate Council’s June 2018 Fact Sheet says:

“Climate change has contributed to a southward shift in weather systems that typically bring cool season rainfall to southern Australia. Since the 1970s late autumn and early winter rainfall has decreased by 15 percent in southeast Australia, and Western Australia’s southwest region has experienced a 15 percent decline in cool season rainfall.”

Both are true, but both are only half true, and in fact the ABC and the Climate Council as usual lie by omission.

The whole story is more complex but shows a completely different, and much less dramatic picture.  Using data for cool season (April- September) rainfall from the Bureau of Meteorology we can check on different time periods.

Fig. 1:  Cool season rainfall, Southern Australia, 1988-2017

Cool rain Sth Oz 19882017

Yes, if this is what Paul West based his statement on, 2017 had about 28% less rain than in 1988.  I hope he didn’t- comparing single years would be pretty bad science.  However there has been a marked decrease in cool season rainfall over this period, so the Climate Council is quite correct.

However, Figure 2 shows the big picture- since 1900.

Fig. 2: Cool season rainfall, Southern Australia, 1900-2017

Cool rain Sth Oz 19002017

Oops! Rainfall has in fact increased over southern Australia.

The reason for the current gnashing of teeth is that “living memory” only goes back about 70 years, and we are comparing current conditions with those of a few decades ago.  Figure 3 shows the average rainfall for the 10 year periods up to 2017.

Fig. 3: 10 year average Cool season rainfall, Southern Australia, 1900-2017

Cool rain Sth Oz 19002017 10yrs

As you can see, the average rainfall of the 10 years 2008 to 2017 was about 7% less than in the 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, but more than the 1920s and 1930s, and nearly 10% more than the 10 years to 1947.  Of the 10 decades before this one, five had less rain and five had more.  Southern Australian cool season rainfall is not “the new normal”, it is in fact “the old normal”.

Let’s now look at South-East Australia, below 33 degrees South and east of 135 degrees East.

Fig. 4: Cool season rainfall, South-Eastern Australia, 1988-2017

Cool rain SE Oz 19882017

Again there is an obvious decrease in rain over the last 30 years.

Fig. 5: Cool season rainfall, South-Eastern Australia, 1900-2017

Cool rain SE Oz 19002017

There has been a small decrease in cool season rainfall over the whole 118 years.  Again there was a marked step up in rainfall from the mid-1940s.  The plot of 10 year averages shows this more clearly:

Fig. 6: 10 year average cool season rainfall, South-Eastern Australia, 1900-2017

Cool rain SE Oz 19002017 10yrs

There was a decreasing trend up to the 1940s, and a decreasing trend from the 1950s to now.  The current 30 to 40 year decrease is nothing new.

However, rainfall records for individual sites go back much longer.  What do these show?  Here is a plot of monthly rainfall for all months at Penola, in South Australia, starting in 1863:

Fig. 7: Monthly rainfall (all months January 1863 – December 2017) at Penola, S.A.

Penola rain monthly

A very long term decreasing trend.  Running 12 month totals show wetter and drier periods:

Fig. 8: 12 month running total rainfall (all months January 1863 – December 2017) at Penola, S.A.

Penola rain 12m

There were very severe droughts around World War 1 and the late 1960s, but a big step up in the 1950s.  This is more obvious in a plot of 10 year totals:

Fig. 8: 120 month running total rainfall (all months January 1863 – December 2017) at Penola, S.A.

Penola rain 120m

This site shows a very long term rainfall decrease, complicated by droughts and strings of wetter years, and a huge step up in the middle of last century.  This site is one of many of varying lengths in the High Quality Rainfall dataset.  Nearly all show the mid-century step up, some show a small long term increase, some show a small long term decrease.

I amalgamated all 84 stations, and here are the plots for all months. Firstly, the number of stations reporting:

Fig. 9: Count of all stations in S.E. Australia reporting, all months

All SE sites Count

There are a number of long term sites.  There were 50 sites in 1898, as in 2017 (several had not yet reported January 2018).

Note: the following plots are of naïve means: there is no area averaging.

Fig. 10: S.E. Australia monthly rainfall (all months)

SE Oz all months

Note a small increase.  Now 12 month running totals of these means:

Fig. 11:  S.E. Australia 12 month rainfall (all months)

SE Oz 12 months

Now the 10 year running total of monthly means, but since 1898 when the number of stations was the same as now:

Fig. 12:  S.E. Australia 120 month rainfall (all months)

SE Oz 120 months 1898

The mid-century step up is obvious, with a decline since then.  The 10 year rainfall to December 2017 is about what it was a century ago.

I now turn to South West Australia.

Fig. 13: Cool season rainfall, South-Western Australia, 1988-2017

Cool rain SW Oz 19882017

A very serious decline since 1988.

Fig. 14: Cool season rainfall, South-Western Australia, 1900-2017

Cool rain Sw Oz 19002017

As you can see, the decline has been around since 1900, but with a marked step down starting in 1968, with a steep but uneven decline since then.  10 year averages show this clearly.

Fig. 14: 10 year average cool season rainfall, South-Western Australia, 1900-2017

Cool rain SW Oz 19002017 10yrs

Conclusion:

The long term data show a complex picture of long term cool season rainfall decline in south-west and some parts of south-east Australia, while southern Australia as a whole shows a very small increase.  It is true that rainfall has declined, as the Climate Council and ABC claim, over the past 30 and 40 years in many parts, but that is only half the story.  The whole story is much less dramatic.  Rainfall has been declining for a long time in WA, and in south-east Australia has been declining in two stages, separated by a large step up in rainfall in the middle of last century.

The current low rainfall is not “the new normal” but entirely consistent with “the old normal” and should be seen as just plain “normal”.  This is Australia.  Get used to it.

BOM Admits “Inaccuracy”!

January 21, 2015

At last- 15 days after their widely publicised initial claims (through Mr Jeff Sabburg) that in 2014 Queensland had rain deficiencies not seen since the 1927-1929 drought, and that 37.3% of the State had the lowest rainfall on record- the Bureau has replied to my complaint.

After the Bureau’s initial perfunctory response on Monday 12 January, I asked for straight answers to whether the claims were correct, and would the Bureau correct them in a Media Release.

This morning, 21 January, I received this email:

Dear Ken,
Further to our correspondence we can confirm that media statements made to the ABC by a Bureau employee on 6 January 2014 did not accurately reflect the relative severity of the current Queensland rainfall deficiencies. Unfortunately the Bureau spokesperson misinterpreted some of the information. We have advised the ABC of the inaccuracy and asked them for an opportunity to update the story, if possible.
 
Regards,
Climate Analysis Section

So the answers to those questions were “No”, “No”, and “No, a media release would be too embarrassing and out of the question, so we’ll just advise the ABC and trust this will be buried as old news”.

I will therefore contact other media outlets (e.g. the Queensland Country Life which also ran the story), with a reminder to ABC Queensland Editor Genevieve Hussey, hoping that people across Queensland are made aware that the drought conditions (terrible as they were and still are for many) were not as bad as reported.

While this is a satisfying outcome for me, it is over two weeks since these “inaccuracies” were widely reported across Queensland in the three media that rural people mostly turn to: ABC Radio Country Hour, ABC TV 7.00 p.m. News, and the Queensland Country Life.  I cannot believe that no one in the Bureau saw these reports and did anything about the falsehood, but I’m not surprised.

If you make a mistake, own up quickly, or trust will dry up faster than the rain.

 

How not to admit a mistake

January 12, 2015

Well that explains everything I guess.  Not.

Here is the reply to my query to the Bureau regarding the claim that 2014 saw “the worst drought in 80 years.”

Dear Ken,
Thank you for your email.
The Bureau’s official publicly available Drought Statement is online at http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/
 
Regards,
Climate Analysis Section
National Climate Centre – Bureau of Meteorology 

Short, sharp, but not exactly to the point.

The relevant paragraphs from the Drought Statement read as follows (my bolding):

It is generally difficult to compare one drought to another, since each drought differs in the seasonality, location, spatial extent and duration of the associated rainfall deficiencies. Additionally, each drought is accompanied by varying temperatures and soil moisture deficits.

The current drought in Queensland is comparable to the 2002–2003 drought, which was perhaps more severe in terms of rainfall deficiencies that occurred at times over a very large area. Historical data shows that the current drought is perhaps a one in ten or twenty year event over a significant part of inland eastern Australia (see for example the 24-month deciles map for 2013–2014), but very severe in some places. For example, some location in central Queensland the present deficiencies are the most severe on record, and in addition have been accompanied by record high temperatures. See: 24-month maximum temperature deciles map for 2013–2014.

Nowhere can I find any reference to “the worst drought in 80 years” or rainfall deficiencies not seen “across Queensland at least since the 1927- 1929 depression drought” or “37.3% of the state… covered by the lowest rainfall on record”.  Also included in the Drought Statement is this map showing 27 month rainfall deficiencies:

qld drought 27m

Perhaps 37% is covered by serious deficiency, but not the lowest on record.So are they admitting the reports were wrong?  I don’t think so.

I will email them again asking for a specific reply, preferably Yes or No, to the questions:

Was Mr Jeff Sabburg correct in saying “In terms of rainfall deficiencies the comparison is we haven’t seen this across Queensland at least since the 1927- 1929 depression drought”?

Was Mr Sabburg correct in saying “37.3% of the state was covered by the lowest rainfall on record”?

If the answer to either of these is “No”, will the Bureau immediately issue a correction in a media release?

I live in hope.

ABC reply to my complaint

January 8, 2015

I was expecting to wait four  weeks, but I received a reply to my complaint about the “worst drought in 80 years” news item in less than 24 hours.  Here it is:

Dear Ken,
Thank you for taking the time to email us regarding a story on the 7pm television news.

The information in our report was based on an interview with climatologist Mr Jeff Sabburg from the Bureau of Meteorology. He was also interviewed by the ABC Country Hour the same day as the annual climate statement was released and said:

“In terms of rainfall deficiencies the comparison is we haven’t seen this across Queensland at least since the 1927- 1929 depression drought. These heat waves we’re getting a number of days in a row above 30- 40 degrees Celsius and then not getting reprieve at night time that’s certainly contributing to the point where there’s nothing much to evaporate away.”

In the 2014 climate statement it also states:

Prolonged rainfall deficiencies continued for inland and south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales.

Rainfall was below to very much below average across the South West Land Division and coastal Gascoyne in Western Australia, the majority of Victoria, southeast South Australia, all of Tasmania and a large area covering northeast New South Wales and southeast Queensland.

The story was written based on this information provided.

Thank you for your feedback.

Regards,

Genevieve Hussey
Queensland News Editor

Journalists obviously do not have the time (or, probably, the ability) to check data for themselves.  If they did, they would have seen that this claim is absolutely without foundation, as I showed in yesterday’s post.  However, such a claim must surely have raised some query, some (dare I say) skepticism, as basically Jeff Sabburg has claimed last year saw the worst drought in living memory.  Surely someone at the ABC can remember as far back as 11 or 12 years ago when rainfall deficiencies were demonstrably worse than they have been last year.

The ball now is in the court of the Bureau of Meteorology, who also received feedback from me.

But thanks to Genevieve Hussey for the unexpectedly swift response.

And because I respect and admire any journalists ready to criticise blind faith, whether it be Islam, Christianity, or Global Warming, despite threats,

“JE SUIS CHARLIE”.

Not the Worst Drought in 80 Years

January 7, 2015

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.