Defining the Australian Drought

William Connolley stumbles into the minefield that is defining the Australian drought:

Australia hasn’t got a mega-drought, only a 10-15% reduction in rainfall.

Many commenters complain, mostly offering up the absolutely useless evidence offered by alarmist news stories from the Australian press. Lab Lemming nails it by noting that drought is best defined by societal impact, not raw measures of precipitation falling from the sky.

By that measure, the lack of precipitation and warmer temperatures is colliding with a growing population and agricultural industry. But by any measure, it’s been darn dry over the last six years or so.


  1. Just stopping by to note my interest in the Australian pieces.

    Everyone out in my parents’ area is selling off for winter again… because they bought stock in summer again… sucked in by summer rain again. In terms of societal impact, I don’t really know the figures, only the anecdotes of how long it will take to restore south-east agriculture. So data is interesting.

  2. OK, I know you and I are basically in agreement on this (particularly w.r.t. the over-hyped media catch phrases), but I think you’re selling some of the other commentors over at Stoat short, John. Sure, there are a couple that use their city newspapers as sources of data. However, my impression from reading through was that most people were pulling him up about the economic impact and the fact that the locality of the short fall of rain coincides with our main growing and grazing regions. I think there’s also a “length of time” argument that has only crept through peripherally in some of the comments: having years and years of lower than average rainfall brings long-term impact. You don’t need a single catastrophic event to change the long-term plans of a society.

    [And in unrelated news: what does it say about your readership when the two commentors so far on this article live a mile apart, but 8100 miles away from the poster. đŸ™‚ ]

  3. M&M: Are you guys in Canberra? If so, make it three.

    Using dollars actually makes drought seem less severe, because the shortages caused by crop failure usually mean higher prices for producers outside the effected areas, which monetarily makes up for the failed harvest without actually helping the people who suffered.

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