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Balancing 'rain guilt', La Niña scepticism as big wet hits drought-declared outback

Wednesday December 29, 2021 - 19:28 AEDT
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Rain is breaking news out here in the west, but we're acutely aware of the fact that not everyone will have some in their gauge. - ABC

The day I moved to Longreach, it rained most of the way there.


I drove into town with a beautiful afternoon summer storm.


I didn't see rain for months after that, but that's just part of normal life out here in western Queensland.


You get so used to seeing the dry, dusty brown of the bare paddocks that the slightest tinge of green stands out like a sore thumb.


Many people would say to me: "Just add water and we'll be in a much better position."


Now, after what was an early start to the season in November, western Queensland is adjusting to seeing blades of green grass in paddocks. For some, it's the first time in almost a decade they've seen grass on their properties, outside their house yard.


Graziers lucky enough to get the rain that started falling early say it has been a game changer.


"It's turned the season around for us ? it just takes the pressure off," a grazier from near Alpha said.


The fact that it was consistent, follow-up rain was just icing on the cake. Some farmers saw close to 200 millimetres fall across the month of November.


"We've had a dream run," one grazier told me.


"You couldn't order it any better," another said.


La Niña to stick around?


I've been in Longreach just over two years now and each year, when the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) releases its outlook or declares a La Niña (as they have the past two years), there's a sense of hope.


But mostly, people are just sceptical. There have been too many failed wet seasons to rely on a forecast released months in advance.


"We keep an eye on the forecast, but we don't make management decisions off them," one grazier said.


"It's good to hear those things, but we've got to see it happen before we get too excited about it."


This year feels different though. People seem more hopeful than sceptical. Sure, there are still sceptics out there, and who can blame them? But with parts of the west seeing one of the wettest Novembers on record, people are wondering what is to come.


There is a lot of talk of 10-year cycles or patterns, and people are saying this year has a similar feel to the 2010?2011 season which is the yardstick used to compare all other rain events. The early start in November this year was reminiscent of that wet season, a decade ago.


"There's a lot of smiles on a lot of faces ? I haven't seen a break this early in this country since those infamous years in 2010?11," a Tambo grazier said.


And then there are the old superstitions: Lots of baby emus mean rain is coming, apparently. I've seen lots of baby emus this year.


In December, the BoM revised their initial prediction, saying La Niña would arrive early, but be shorter.


If that proves to be true, there will be some disappointment, but most people will be grateful to have any rain before the hottest part of the year.


"A lot of people are saying the same thing ? even if they haven't had a lot of rain, the response has been terrific."


While it is a true joy reporting on the consistent follow-up rain, the sad reality is that not everyone got a lot ? or any ? rain.


For those that missed out on follow up, they are worried about the feed in their paddocks.


"We can get a lot of hot weather between now and March, so if it's all we get for a couple of months you probably won't even know it happened."


Rain guilt is real


The thing about covering such a big patch is that when the rain falls, there are always large parts that miss out on the rain entirely.


One of the first things we are taught as rural reporters in outback Queensland is if it's raining, you need to be reporting it. I love speaking to people after a night of long-awaited rain, or after that afternoon storm. There is such excitement and pure joy in people's voice when it comes to rain in the gauge.


But we are all very aware of the fact that not everyone is lucky enough to get under the right storm.


As one grazier said, "It's been so hit and miss in a lot of areas".


This is where the idea of rain guilt comes in. We hear about it all the time.


I remember when I first started out here and when there was rain in the patch, you would do the usual call around and 9 out of 10 times, there would be a very similar response:


"Oh mate, I could talk about the rain all day, but I don't want to do it on the radio. My neighbour/mate/sibling got nothing, and I don't want to upset anyone."


As time has gone on, and some of those places that always seem to miss out finally get rain, people are happier to chat. But every conversation ends with, "I know not everyone got rain, and we hope it keeps coming and everyone gets a storm or two over them."







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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