Rain needed now, before the frosts
The merciful rain pouring over a parched Manawatu this time last year could be a way off yet, as farmers contemplate the possibility of frosts before relief.
Niwa said yesterday that March was Palmerston North's driest since records began in 1928, confirming what local weather watchers measured as just millimetres of rain last month.
MetService meteorologist John Law said forecasters were keeping a close eye out for rain, which was likely to arrive in Manawatu on Tuesday.
There were no guarantees of a substantial deluge, however, with the most likely scenario at this stage looking like scattered showers.
Manawatu Federated Farmers dairy chairman James Stewart said things in the region were now as bad as they were in the height of the North Island-wide drought in 2013.
That drought, described at the time as once-in-a-generation, had come earlier, where this year's dry had taken until late January to begin, he said.
"This year it's come about a month later, but it's got pretty serious again.
"The one good thing is that farmers' spirits are probably a bit higher because of the record Fonterra payout, but the concern is that if it gets cold now grass won't be growing back fast."
Last year's winter was milder than normal and allowed unseasonable grass growth exactly when it was most needed, Stewart said.
"The longer we go without rain the more there is a chance that we get some early frosts and things go bad."
Manawatu is far from the only region with brown grass. Farm country on the lighter sandy soils from Turakina to Foxton is suffering. Farmland at Kairanga and Taihape is dry too. Horowhenua, which largely escaped last year's drought, is parched.
In Tararua, Dannevirke recorded 223 hours of sunshine in March, its third sunniest on record.
Niwa said most of the North Island, from Northland right through to Wellington, had recorded rainfall less than 50 per cent of normal last month, which was similar to how February had also played out.
"Unfortunately, the change of season did not include a change in rainfall.
"The dryness continued across the Cook Strait and into much of the western portions of the South Island where Westport was subjected to its driest March on record. Rainfall deficits continued right the way through the western portions of the Southland region."
Soil moisture levels were well below normal in inland Manawatu and Rangitikei, Niwa said.