The Current Situation
Many of the dry areas are starting up farmer focused groups – such Rural Advisory/Coordination Groups or Primary Industries Adverse Events Cluster groups - to monitor the effects in their region and the ability of communities to cope with the conditions.
The NIWA Drought Monitor can be found here
The NIWA NZ Drought Index indicates significant drying has occurred since early December. Meteorological drought conditions currently exist over much of the lower North Island with a small, but growing, area of severe drought conditions along the southwest coast of the North Island. Dry conditions have also expanded over the South Island, with areas of meteorological drought present over the Marlborough Sounds region.
These conditions are chiefly due to an extended period of below normal or well below normal rainfall, and increasing evapotranspiration rates. Average daily evapotranspiration in December ranges from 3-5 mm per day, increasing to 4-6 mm per day in January. Consequently, sustained periods of rainfall are needed to reverse the drying trend.
There are indications that, during early January 2018, the weather pattern may become more favourable for rain over western regions of both islands as well as the northern South Island. Given the warm ocean temperatures around the country and the projected weather set-up, there is potential for heavy rain in parts of the country. Unfortunately, it’s too early to specify exactly where that heavy rainfall may occur.
What Comes Next
Additional support and recovery assistance measures for rural communities can be necessary in prolonged or widespread drought, particularly droughts that extend for two growing seasons or more. However it’s often not necessary if dryness or drought are localised, or temporary.
NIWA has indicated that there will likely be an increased chance of rain, possibly significant for some areas, in January 2018. Should forecast rain be minimal, and current temperatures continue, conditions in some of the dry-affected areas could meet the criteria for being formally classified as a medium-scale drought event within the next month. This will be more likely if the impact of the much drier than usual conditions becomes more widespread and beyond the capacity of the community to continue managing.
If the impacts of a drought are classified as medium- or large-scale, it can trigger extra government recovery assistance, such as additional funding for Rural Support Trusts to help their communities get through a drought.