One- and two-year droughts recur in January 2019

Drought contour plot to Jan 2019

This contour plot shows the progress of the extreme drought at Manilla up to January 2019. Colours show rainfall shortages as percentiles. Dates plot along the top, and durations down the side.

One month rainfall totals (on the top row)

By January 2019, there had been six months without serious monthly rainfall shortages. The months of serious rainfall shortage (light brown) were earlier, in May, June and July 2018. The only other month with such low rainfall was September 2017.

Droughts lasting less than one year (rows 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9)

As the effects of low monthly rainfall added up, extreme droughts appeared (dark brown). That is, rainfall totals below the 1st percentile. (They are the lowest rainfall totals, that have occurred in less than 1% of the historical record.)
By June 2018, the 2-month and 3-month totals were already extreme shortages. Similarly, by July, the 3-month, 4-month, and 5-month totals were extreme shortages. By September 2018, extreme shortages extended as far as the 9-month total. That total, adding up the nine months from January to September 2018, included only one month (February) that had rainfall above normal.
In these durations of less than one year, extreme droughts were rare after September 2018. Because the last six months had no serious monthly shortages, the final month (January) includes no serious shortages for durations from 2 months up to 6 months.

Droughts of 1 year to 2 year duration (rows 12, 15, 18, 24)

By August 2018, an extreme 15-month drought appeared. That 15-month total then included not only the dry months of winter 2018, but also the dry month of September 2017. By September 2018, the 15-month total became the driest on record (400 mm). By October all four droughts in this group (12-, 15-, 18-, and 24-month droughts) were extreme. This became true again in January 2019. By that date, some of the dry months of 2017 were no longer included, but dry months in the current summer replaced them in the total.

Related graphs

A similar contour plot with data to October 2018 is here.

A line graph of the rainfall status for January 2019 reveals that extreme shortages also exist now at the much longer durations of six years and seven years that are not included in this contour plot.


The following notes include:

Classes of rainfall shortage

Rainfall rate versus percentile rank

Limitations of this analysis

Note: Classes of rainfall shortage

I have adopted two classes of rainfall shortage from the classes of “Rainfall deficiency” defined by the Bureau of Meteorology in their Climate Glossary as follows:

“Serious rainfall deficiency: rainfall lies above the lowest five per cent of recorded rainfall but below the lowest ten per cent (decile range 1) for the period in question,
“Severe rainfall deficiency: rainfall is among the lowest five per cent for the period in question.”

The Manilla rainfall record allows me to go beyond these two classes. Because the record extends back 134 years, it includes more than 1200 cumulative monthly rainfall values. I can identify percentile ranks even below the 0.1th percentile.
To the Bureau’s two classes of deficiency I add a third:

“Extreme deficiency (or extreme shortage): rainfall lies below the lowest one percent for the period in question.”

Note: Rainfall rate versus percentile rank

Classes of rainfall deficiency based on percentile rank (rarity of occurrence) are practical, while classes based on percent of normal rainfall are not. However, some features of graphs showing percentile values (such as this) may be puzzling if one point is not understood. For any class, such as “Extreme shortage”, the rainfall rate in millimetres per month is not the same for droughts of shorter and longer duration. The longer the duration considered, the higher the rainfall rate in that class of shortage.
For example, consider an extreme shortage, below the 1st percentile. A 3-month period at Manilla would be in extreme shortage only if the rainfall was below 8 mm per month (18% of normal), but a 36-month period would be in extreme shortage so long as the rainfall was below 39 mm per month (89% of normal). See the post “Short Droughts are Worst”.

Note: Limitations of this analysis

Monthly rainfalls form a single population

For each month of record, the observed rainfall has been tabulated, and added to those of preceding months to form n-month totals. Then percentile ranks have been calculated using the whole data record, in which the median monthly rainfall is 44 mm. No distinction has been made between calendar months. As a result, January months, which generally have the highest rainfall, (median value 75 mm) will be ranked here as rather less drought-prone than other months.
This limitation will not affect those n-month totals that comprise whole years, such as 24 months. When I inspect the main graph here, I do not see any discrepancy between the drought trajectories for whole-year durations (12, 24, and 36 months) as compared to other durations.
Since adjusting the analysis to account for the differing rainfall in calendar months is difficult, I am letting this simpler analysis stand.

Observations are not retrospective

When a current month’s data shows (for example) an extreme rainfall shortage for a duration of 15 months, this graph (or the related line graph) will plot that 15-month duration at the current month. If the previous month did not have an extreme rainfall shortage of that duration, it will not have been recorded there. Logically, that 15-month extreme shortage must have commenced 14 months earlier. It began then, but the evidence for it has appeared only now.
The data for each current month must always be provisional concerning the drought status at durations longer than one month. I am also preparing graphs that project shortages back to the date that they began.

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