Hot and wet January fails to break Marlborough drought

Dark, rain clouds above the Wither Hills, which experienced much needed relief from two major rainfall events in January.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Dark, rain clouds above the Wither Hills, which experienced much needed relief from two major rainfall events in January.

Marlborough is still in a drought despite a wetter than usual January.

The Ministry for Primary Industries first classified Marlborough as suffering from a medium-scale drought in February last year.

Minister Nathan Guy last month extended the classification until June this year, saying January rainfall was not enough to alleviate the dry conditions.

Blenheim weather statistics.
FAIRFAX NZ

Blenheim weather statistics.

The extended classification, which included additional funding of $150,000 to Rural Support Trusts, meant farmers and growers were able to access more government assistance.

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Heavy rainfall in Marlborough

The latest figures from the Blenheim Meteorological Station, based at the Marlborough Research Centre, showed January was a month of fluctuating temperatures and higher than normal rainfall.

Compared to January 2015, where only 3.2 millimetres was recorded, last month saw 69.2mm of rain, or 144 per cent of the long term average.

Plant and Food scientist Rob Agnew said the rainfall would have had a positive psychological effect on farmers but more was needed.

"For pastoral farmers on the east coast, who have seen 18 months of drought, it's going to take quite a long time to recover," he said.

The biggest benefit of the rainfall was the impact on river levels and the flow-on benefits this had for irrigation.

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A Marlborough District Council weather update on Monday said there were good flows in all major rivers, with Class C water takes available from many.

This was unusual for this time of year and it was likely they would be withdrawn in a few days, the report said.

The rainfall had also topped up the Southern Valleys Irrigation Scheme.

This was good news for grapegrowers, who would have seen a flash of growth as a result of the rain, Agnew said.

The Renwick water supply was also edging back to normal as output from the wells increased last week because of rainfall and careful water use by residents.

However, the council asked residents to continue to be vigilant.

A seven-day period, starting on January 20, was the hottest consecutive stretch recorded in Blenheim since 1998, with the mercury climbing to a high of 30 degrees Celsius.

But a series of cold days towards the end of the month, which were around five degrees colder than average, brought the mean temperature down to 18.8 degrees Celsius.

However, this was still 0.8 degrees higher than the long term average.

This was unusual in an El Nino period, which typically saw cooler temperatures and lower rainfall, however Agnew said it was possible that more northwesterly winds had contributed to the warmer temperatures.

* Marlborough farmers and grapegrowers affected by drought are encouraged to call Regional Support Trust on 0800 787 254 for assistance. 

 - The Marlborough Express

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