Scottie Simmonds

Weather bureau pours cold water on drought fears

By Alex Easton

The Northern Rivers finished February with less rain than it had in February 2002 ? the start of the drought year that nearly drained Rocky Creek Dam.

Figures from the Bureau of Meteorology and The Northern Star's weather watchers show the region is approaching the end of the wet season with less than a third of its average February rainfall.

And some parts of the region last month recorded only one-third to one-quarter of the rainfall received during February 2002.

However, the Bureau of Meteorology rejected suggestions last month was the driest February on record; and Rous Water has said Rocky Creek Dam is starting the year in a much stronger posi- tion than it did in 2002.

A spokesman for Rous Water said Rocky Creek Dam was presently at 72.7 per cent of capacity, compared with 35 per cent at the start of March 2002.

Overall, the region's summer temperatures were roughly on average, as was rainfall in December and January.

Acting manager of the Bureau's climate section, Perry Wiles, said the unusually dry February was caused by a low pressure system hanging around southern Australia.

That system was giving Victoria and southern NSW good rains, while throwing dry westerly winds at the Northern Rivers; pushing back the easterlies that usually bring rain off the Pacific Ocean at this time of year.

Mr Wiles said it was impossible to tell how long the rogue low would stay over southern Australia, but the chances of decent rain were shrinking.

The chance of wet conditions was presently between 22 per cent and 33 per cent, while there were even 33 per cent to 44 per cent chances of average or dry conditions.

If the westerlies continued and started pushing warm water towards the coast of South America it could force us back into El Nino drought conditions, but Mr Wiles said there was no way to know if that would happen, largely because predictions were based on the movement of El-Nino cycles, but the pattern was presently inactive.

Mr Wiles said last month remained above the region's record dries, although it was a close thing at Byron Bay, where its February total of 40mm was barely above the 1996 record dry of 39.9mm.

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