Droughts occur when there is not enough water to sustain people, plants and animals for an unusual period of time.
Australia’s last drought started in 2003 and was known as the 'Big Dry'.
A drought is an unusually long time where there is not enough water to meet the needs of people, animals and plants. In Australia, droughts can last for many years and can affect people who live inland, on farms, in cities and in coastal areas. Droughts can continue even when there has been some rainfall. Droughts can cause food crops to fail and farm animals to die. During droughts other disasters can also occur, such as bushfires and heatwaves.
What causes drought?
Australia is often affected by droughts because of our geography and changeable rainfall patterns. Our continent is located in a subtropical area of the world that produces dry, sinking air that creates clear skies and little rain. For most of the country, our rainfall is very low and irregular.
Another cause of drought in Australia is from the El Niño weather pattern. When there are El Nino weather conditions, Australia becomes drier than normal and the chance of rain decreases.
Forecasting a drought
Weather researchers watch closely for signs of an El Niño weather pattern as a way of forecasting droughts.
Another tool used by weather forecasters in predicting a drought is the Southern Oscillation Index. By understanding the El Nino patterns and the Southern Oscillation Index, the weather bureau is able to predict a drought and send warnings to farmers and authorities that a drought is likely.
Why are droughts dangerous?
When there is a drought, there is less water available for growing crops, farming animals, industry and our cities. Droughts also impact the environment by causing erosion, harming animals, causing people to pay more for food, and affecting our water supplies. Droughts are hard to predict and also hard to live with. When a drought continues for a long time, towns are at risk of running out of water and there are many areas in Australia that have water restrictions to help save water. Some areas also use water recycling, desalination plants and dig bores into the ground to get more water for their residents.