Monday, January 18, 2010

Torrential rains can't quench Australia's 'Big Dry'

My via Agence France-Presse: Torrential rains in Australia have failed to quench the country's "Big Dry", a decade-long drought that has driven farmers to the wall and shows no signs of abating. While the rains flooded many areas in recent weeks, made parched rivers flow again and even halted the iconic Ghan cross-country train, large parts of the hot, dry country were left untouched.

Ken Keith, a third-generation sheep farmer near Parkes in rural New South Wales, was one of those bypassed by the deluge. "It's probably been the driest 10 years ever, in my memory anyway," he said. "Last year was the third-driest year for the previous 40 years on this farm."

North of Parkes, the rains flooded scores of towns -- the best falls for many areas in a decade. But Parkes saw only a sprinkling, just enough to raise a stubble of grazing crops. At Keith's farm, a fly-blown ewe, riddled with cancer, had collapsed near the herd's meagre water supplies. "She'll have to be shot," he said grimly, crouching over the animal.

Parkes is in the narrow band identified by the weather bureau as in "serious to severe" drought, where rainfall is among the lowest it has been since records began. Despite the Christmas rains, drought extended by one percentage point to nearly 82 percent of the eastern state of New South Wales in January, officials said. Just five percent of the state is rated "satisfactory". "The recent rainfall events occur against a backdrop of decade-long rainfall deficits and record high temperatures that have severely stressed water supplies," said rural affairs minister Steve Whan…

A dry creek bed near Adelaide, Australia, shot by badjonni, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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