13 Jan 2020

Fears of no decent rain in Northland until mid-year

3:20 pm on 13 January 2020

A long-range forecast from MetService shows no major reprieve for extremely dry parts of Northland.

Baby sheep walking over dry glass, New Zealand farm animal

Northland is on the cusp of drought after record low rainfall last year, on the back of several dry years. Photo: 123RF

The region is on the cusp of drought on the back of several dry years as well as its record low rainfall for 2019.

MetService's forecast comes after warnings last week from Niwa and the Northland Regional Council, that conditions could affect crops and water supplies until at least March.

Meteorologist Jake Cope said the weather is likely to stay hotter and drier than normal every month until July.

The only exception is in March, where a Tasman low system brings a higher chance of significant rain.

"That's probably a period of fairly wet and windy weather, maybe two or three [spells] through the course of the month. It's the only real shot I see in this six-month forecast for any reprieve to the very dry conditions," he said.

For the rest of the six-month period he said a "persistent ridge" across Northland could ward off other lows and wet weather that is forecast for the rest of the country.

"This ridge across Northland seems like it stays in place and it keeps any of these weather systems at bay," he said.

"It doesn't mean that there will be no rain at all. But the rain you'll see is likely to be fleeting, quite showery."

Rain is also due tonight, but he said it is not likely to be more than a minor shower.

Farmers are facing losses as summer feed crops fail, and the regional council has started urging water users to conserve water where possible.

Rainfall in 2019 was the lowest ever on record, for Kaitaia, Puhipuhi, Ngunguru, Whangārei and Brynderwyn, and very low rainfall was widespread elsewhere, the Northland Regional Council said.

Many waterways have already been reduced to late summer levels expected in late February or March. In some places water movement has become so "stagnant and blackish-looking" the council has been receiving calls incorrectly reporting sewage discharges.

Water restrictions began early for urban and commercial users in some Northland catchments, with sprinkler and hose use banned, and everyone throughout the region urged to be careful of unnecessary water use.

Whangārei District Councillor and recently retired dairy farmer Phil Halse told RNZ last week that the dry conditions meant some farmers were being pushed to the limit.

"Northland experienced a very, very dry winter period, and only received about half of our rainfall, and that's carrying through to a very dry summer. It's starting to impact big time now."

Northland dairy farms usually grew supplementary crops to feed stock through summer, but even supplementary crops were failing, Halse said.

It meant some farmers would be forced to buy expensive imported feed at spot market rates at an already lean time, and were likely to make a loss on their year, he said.

The district council's holding dams for Whangārei city water has been at its lowest levels ever this year, he added.

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