Bill Murray’s field in Walgett has not carried a crop for the last four years. Photo: Peter RaeAs the rest of the country experiences spring, one regional NSW town seems to have started summer two months early.
Walgett, in the state’s north-west, marked its 22nd day in a row of temperatures above 30 degrees on Wednesday, meaning every single day of October so far, and the last of September, was a scorcher.
It’s average temperature so far this month is 34 degrees and its hottest days sent the mercury soaring to 37.8 degrees.
The record run has eclipsed the town’s previous string of 30-degree-plus days, which was only 15 in a row, according to Bureau of Meteorology heat records.
Though the above-average temperatures are immediately obvious in Walgett, higher than average temperatures have also been seen in Sydney and Melbourne this month.
In October, Sydney’s maximum temperatures have been around 3.5 degrees above average, while Melbourne has seen temperatures running 5 degrees higher than normal.
Cameron Rowntree, a grain grower and grazier at Eurie Eurie station near Walgett, says his family has endured some unusual heat this spring.
“We’re used to hot weather but it seems we had some bloody hot days lately.”
The heat, though, has come on top of an exceptionally dry period, with his area drier over the past 36 months “by some margin”, compared with previous records.
Not only is the prolonged dry spell “taxing physically” for farmers involved, it is a disaster for local businesses in north-west NSW and the 80 per cent of Queensland that has been hit by drought.
“Towns are just dying,” he said.
Mr Rowntree, whose family has run the station for the past century, said farmers “are sick of the lip service” from politicians who promise aid but few farms are eligible it.
Unable to sow grains for three years, Mr Rowntree’s farm is relying on loans to get by, just like many of his counterparts. He says banks have so far been supportive but added that they and the governments need make sure the money keeps flowing until the rains return.
Tristan Meyers, a meteorologist for Fairfax Media’s Weatherzone, said an El Niño was one factor in the higher than average temperatures in Walgett and eastern Australia.
In its latest update, the Bureau of Meteorology said drought areas could potentially be expanded by a strengthening El Niño, which will bring drier, warmer weather to Australia. The weather system generally affects inland areas more severely than the coast.
“Because we’re in El Niño conditions and we’re in spring, we’re likely to have El Niño influence the temperatures for this area of New South Wales,” Mr Meyers said. One characteristic of the weather system, a lack of clouds, helps temperatures to soar.
“So we’re likely to finish off with a warmer than average spring, as well as drier than average,” he said.
The dry conditions can be seen in the above chart from the Bureau of Meteorology, which shows most of Australia – with the exception of parts of Western Australia and Queensland – had low amounts of rainfall for October.
As for Walgett, there could be some respite on the way in the temperature stakes. On Thursday, the predicted maximum is a relatively balmy 29 degrees.
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