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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How wet has it been in the sheep regions?

By Andrew Woods  |  Source: BOM, AWEX, ICS

Key points

  • It has been a very wet winter in Queensland and NSW, following a mixed autumn when looking across the different regions.
  • In Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania a wet September follows on from solid rainfall in both the autumn and winter.
  • In Western Australia autumn rainfall was excellent while winter rainfall was generally low. However seasonal conditions are good.

2016-09-20 Wool Fig 1

2016-09-20 Wool Fig 2

September is proving to a very wet month in many regions bringing to an end a run of dry springs across sheep regions in Australia. This rainfall is falling on many regions that are already wet. This article takes a quick look at the rainfall by region in the autumn and winter for 2016.

Figure 1 shows rainfall ranks by region for the three months to May and the following three months to August, effectively autumn and winter in the southern hemisphere. The ranking allows rainfall in these three month periods to be compared to rainfall in those months during the past century (where rainfall data is available which is for most sites). A ranking of 0.9 means it has been drier for 90% of the time in these months, while a ranking of 0.3 means it has been drier for only 30% of the time during the past century.

The stand out winter rainfall this year has been for Queensland and NSW with the regional ranking ranging from 0.99 to 0.87. That is a wet winter! By contrast the autumn rainfall in these regions was mixed. It was above median in some regions and well below in Queensland and northern NSW.

Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian rainfall was more consistent between the autumn and winter. It ranged from median to high.

In Western Australia rainfall has been varied but the incidence (timing) has been good. Autumn rainfall was solid to excellent which got the season off to a good start. Winter rainfall was below median to low, however the good start has helped seasonal conditions remain good. It is a good example of why rainfall is a proxy for seasonal conditions only, as it does not tell the whole story.

Western Victoria has had two very dry springs in succession. This shows up in Figure 2 which shows the rolling 12 month rainfall rank (the rainfall rank for the 12 months to August) by region, with the year on year change in this rank overlaid. Despite a solid autumn and winter the rolling 12 month rainfall rank for western Victoria remains low, dragged down by the dry six months leading up to March 2016.

Most other regions have a rolling 12 month rank between the 40th and 60th percentile, which is an improvement on the previous 12 month period except for the far west of NSW, the south east of NSW and central and south-east Western Australia. Changes in the rolling 12 month rainfall rank underpin changes in sheep numbers, clean fleece weights and fibre diameter. An improvement in the rolling rainfall rank will underpin an increase in these sheep and wool measures.

What does this mean?

The September rains are following very wet winters in Queensland and NSW, wet winters in Tasmania and South Australia and above median winters in western Victoria. The rolling 12 month rainfall ranks are being dragged higher in most regions by rainfall during the past six months, and September will continue to drag them up even further. The sheep flock will increase on the back of this season, as will clean fleece weights and fibre diameter. However rainfall is only a proxy for seasonal conditions, as Western Australia shows this year where despite low winter rainfall conditions are very good.

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