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Western Queensland graziers praying that rain predictions ring true

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Graziers in drought-declared western Queensland hope to wake to the sound of rain on Christmas Day, after the La Niña weather event failed to bring a much-needed early start to the wet season.

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The Bureau of Meteorology declared a La Niña in late September, signalling an increased chance of above-average rainfall during spring and early summer for central and eastern Australia.

The forecast has failed to eventuate in central-west Queensland, where cattle and sheep graziers have been battling drought for years.

Paul Doneley from Dunraven station, southwest of Barcaldine, said he was initially optimistic about the prediction but quickly realised it could not be relied upon.

“I was looking forward to early rain [thinking] I could have a really wet, green Christmas,” Doneley said.

“But here we are just about to sit down for Christmas lunch and nothing’s really come.

“[The BOM was] saying early rain, good rain … could generate in these areas, but a lot of people out here haven’t seen anything.”

The fifth-generation grazier, who has been battling severe drought since he returned to the family property in 2012, said people gambled heavily based on the predictions.

“You start making forward budgets and suddenly when you don’t get that rain, all that’s in vain … and the bank’s looking at you again,” Doneley said.

“It affects your forward planning, it affects your family.

“There’s a lot of decisions that are made just by the promise of rain and when it doesn’t come, sometimes it really knocks you down.”

The year hasn’t been much better at Longway station, near Longreach, where Rosemary Champion has run cattle since 1977.

Champion said she was sceptical when the bureau declared the La Niña would bring rain in spring.

“September, October, November … a serious La Niña does not start then,” she said.

“A serious La Niña wouldn’t even be contemplated until late December, January, February, but the BOM was saying that.”

La Niña not enough to bring rain, BOM says

BOM meteorologist Shane Kennedy admitted the bureau could be more precise in its forecast.

He said a La Niña declaration itself was not enough to guarantee wet weather, and that getting rain still relied on day-to-day weather like a trough, a decaying tropical cyclone or a tropical low as a trigger.

“It’s a bit like loading the dice,” Kennedy said.

“You’ve still got to roll the correct numbers, unfortunately … it just means that more numbers on that die will mean that you get more weather.”

He said the outlook for western Queensland for January to March looked more promising.

“We still have increased chances of getting some heavy falls for the remainder of the wet season.

“Certainly not quite as good as in the far north and in the east coast, of course, but still looking at a well-above-average chance of seeing above-median rainfall.”

Wet Christmas Day could be on the cards

The bureau is predicting an 80 per cent chance of 20 to 50mm of rain falling in the Longreach area on Christmas Day.

The odds are even better at Barcaldine Downs, where Doneley’s property is, with a 90 per cent chance of 30 to 60 millimetres.

Champion said rain would buoy the spirits of many people who appeared to have lost hope.”There’s a lot of heartache out there,” she said.

“People have just walked away from the BOM. They don’t look at forecasts anymore.

“There’s a general despondency … if we don’t get rain this year, people will be … desperate.”

Doneley said the pitter-patter of water drops on the roof would be the best Christmas present ever.

“I’d love to hear the rain on the roof that night before,” he said.

“Hopefully I won’t have to go anywhere and I can sit down and just listen to the rain.

“I’d be quite happy just tipping out a couple of inches for Christmas Day and opening no presents.”

– ABC / Ellie Grounds

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