Bureau officially declares El Niño event

By AAP / AG Staff 20 September 2023
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
The weather bureau has declared an El Niño event, meaning severe heat this summer in Australia.

Australia is officially in the grip of a double weather whammy that could mean a dangerously hot and dry summer for much of the country.

Not only has the Bureau of Meteorology formally declared an El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean, to Australia’s east, but also a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), to the west.

El Niño typically delivers above average heat and drier conditions, particularly in eastern Australia. And a positive IOD tends to drive lower than average rainfall for large swathes of the country.

“When these two things occur together, that tends to increase the severity of rainfall deficiencies, in particular for the south east of the continent, over spring,” says the Bureau’s manager of climate services Karl Braganza.

He warns hot, dry conditions were expected to persist until the end of summer.

“In all likelihood, we can expect that this summer will be hotter than average and certainly hotter than the last three years.

“Those conditions are accompanied by an increase in fire danger and extreme heat risk … It’s really up to individuals and communities now to prepare for a summer of heat and fire hazards.”

Related: Burning question: Australia is set for a hot, dry El Niño. What does this mean?

While conditions aren’t as bad as they were leading into the catastrophic fires of Black Summer, the landscape is rapidly drying out.

“Leading into Black Summer in 2019 … we had years of preceding drought. We do have a wetter landscape out there, (but) it is drying out more rapidly than has occurred in recent years,” Dr Braganza said.

“We are already seeing extreme conditions in some parts of the continent.”

Dr Braganza warned Victoria and NSW, in particular, tended to dry out under a positive IOD influence in spring.

Extreme heat forecasts also increase the chances of severe bushfires this summer. Image credit: Stu Shaw/shutterstock

Farmers already feeling the heat

Farmers are feeling the heat from El Niño with some producers already in drought.  

The weather pattern is expected to deliver warmer drier conditions across eastern Australia and parts of the NSW North coast and Hunter region are drought-declared. 

Peter Lake who farms near Grafton on the NSW North Coast, is experiencing drought conditions after battling floods 12 months ago.

“It turned from mud to concrete in a couple of weeks and suddenly everything was just dry. From flood to drought, climate change is making the changes more extreme,” says Peter.

One charity has reported a 240 per cent spike over the past four months in demand for emergency drinking water from producers.

Rural Aid which helps primary producers in need said the need was greatest in parts of NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

“The declaration is a formalisation of what they’re already living and experiencing and managing against,” says Rural Aid’s John Walters.

“The spike in fodder and water requests reflect the dry conditions.”

Queensland grain and cattle farmer Pete Mailler said he’s been preparing for an El Niño event for months, while other farmers have already been destocking.

“I changed crop selections and am busy fencing to make smaller paddocks to better manage our pastures,” he says. 

“We’ve already been proactively managing for an El Niño this year, we expect a hotter and dryer spring and summer, we can’t afford to wait for the BoM to make their announcement to begin preparing.”

Related: Pass the saltbush: Farmers go native ahead of El Niño