The silver lining to the big dry

FloodJune14Std

I thought we’d “only” had 93mm but it was actually more like 144mm (that’s more than 5 and half inches) in three days. Normally, that would have been a massive disaster. Instead, it’s moderate flooding and, so long as the weather gods hold their tempers for a while, we’ll have dodged a bullet.

Such a relief.

I put our narrow escape down to the lingering effects of the exceptionally dry summer and autumn of 2012/13. While the pastures were green last week, you only had to dig down a few inches before the soil became very dry. The catchment sopped up most of this rain like a giant jade sponge before it got to the waterways.

The weather bureau is forecasting a warmer and wetter than average winter and although it has very little confidence in that seasonal rainfall outlook, the forecasters are actually very good at predicting temperatures. A warm winter would be welcome indeed. Fingers crossed!

A purple blister on the weather map is coming to get us

Holy cow

Holy cow

It’s not a good sign when the local weather forecaster gets a spot on ABC Radio’s National news. Our forecast is so shocking that, yes, it made headlines today.

A massive chunk of Victoria is about to go underwater and, with it, a massive chunk of our farm. We’ve had an inch of rain in the last two hours and the prediction is for between 51 and 102mm tomorrow, followed by another 20 or 30mm over another couple of days.

I’m thankful for the undulations at the southern end of the farm. The cows will at least be safe.

I’m also thankful for the Bureau of Meteorology’s timely warnings. It gave us time to:

  • Set up safer paddocks for the cows
  • Ask Scott, the grain merchant, to deliver more feed before we get flooded in
  • Remove the power units from the electric fences on the river flats
  • Bring all the eight new calves born during the last 48 hours into the warmth of the poddy shed
  • Stock up at the supermarket
  • Pile the verandah high with dry kindling and wood to keep the kids warm

As the flood sets in, we’ll be:

  • Offering extra TLC for newborns and freshly-calved cows
  • Feeding out more of our precious and rapidly dwindling stock of hay while hitting the phones looking for more ridiculously scarce fodder
  • Keeping an even keener eye out for mastitis
  • Walking the cows extra gently to the dairy to reduce the risk of lameness
  • Hoping like hell that the damage to the fences and tracks isn’t too bad
  • Monitoring the condition of paddocks to minimise pugging (mud, mud, mud)
  • Stocking the dairy snack bar with a bottomless supply of soup and raisin bread

It’s often said that good farmers only worry about what they can control. I’ll do my best!

Rain post

Bah humbug! I am going to hang washing out on the line this morning, despite the Bureau’s flash flooding warnings because my diligent preparations for yesterday’s forecasted deluge seems to have put a hex on the arrival of the huge east coast low.

For a week now, the forecasters have been issuing dire alerts, urging us to get hay into sheds and move cattle to high ground. I duly grazed out the flats and arranged for the cows to go to the slopes, cranked the dam siphon into action for a day (flooding the swamp paddock in the process), brought in all the loose garden furniture and watched the radar.

A huge storm raged all day in Bass Strait but nothing arrived here. Even the easterly wind faded away to nothing and small puffy clouds arrived from the south-west. Disgusted, I finally drove up the dam wall to turn off the siphon. When I turned to see how much of a mess I’d made of the paddock in the siphon’s path, this is what I saw:

It had snuck up on me

It had snuck up on me

Wheeling around towards the south-east, I was astonished to see it even had its own “twister”!

Twister

The finger of doom?

Well, I reckon we’d be lucky to see 3mm in the gauge this morning.

The thinking behind this post is that the more public I go with my disbelief, the more likely the weather gods will shame me. So, please tell everyone you know that Milk Maid Marian says it’s not going to rain today. I dare you!

I’m not afraid of La Nina

So, she’s on her way back, is she? La Nina wreaked havoc across Australia last season and forecasts predicting her return this summer have hit the headlines. But I’m not scared of her. In my region, La Nina is no grand dame.

In fact, the Bureau of Meteorology’s analysis of 12 La Nina years shows average rainfall in our region of south-east Victoria.

I had no idea this was the case until I subscribed to the fascinating and very informative Victorian DPI program, Milking the Weather. A more realistic seasonal outlook means we need to look at a whole series of climate drivers that Milking the Weather nicknames “Climate Dogs”. In their September newsletter, the DPI’s Bree Walsh and Zita Ritchie say:

“It is easy to look to the sky, irrigation dams and soil moisture levels and think the good old days of plenty of rain have returned. However, based on history an average outlook could mean rainfall could go either way, as rainfall events rely on a good moisture feed from the Pacific and/or Indian oceans.”

With this in mind, the smart money is not on building an ark or buying in vast quantities of fodder just yet. As Bree and Zita conclude:

“In summary, 2011 looks unlikely to mimic 2010, taking into account the current climatic indicators and model predictions. When comparing the seasonal outlook from year to year, it is important to keep risk in the back of you mind. Many factors affect our weather, with each region having their own specific risks which need to be considered in the context of the broader model forecasts. Managing climatic risk is complex, one of the hardest management decisions is around how all of these outlooks come together and affect your farm.”