Manilla’s Droughts, 1884 to 1916

Graphical log of droughts, 1884 to 1916

The catastrophic droughts in 1902 and 1912-16 were quite different.

In the years before 1917 shown here, Manilla had several times of extreme drought. They came in 1888, 1895, 1902, and in a cluster that began in 1912.
(1.) The 1888 extreme droughts were of 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, 6- and 9-month duration. The 2-month event was in August, and other events came later as they became longer, until the 9-month event came in December (having begun in April).
(2.) In 1895, drought was extreme only for durations of 5-months (June) and 6-months (July and August). Although droughts of 2-, 3-, 4-, and 9-month duration also occurred, they were not extreme, but merely “severe”.
(3.) Manilla’s 1902 (“Federation”) drought was phenomenal. Extreme droughts of nearly all durations from 2 months through to 96 months occurred (and ended) at practically the same time. The 2-month event plots at May 1902. The 96-month extreme drought plots at February-March 1903. None of the drought events around 1902 extended far into 1903; all ceased abruptly. The rainfall shortages began earlier according to a simple pattern; the longer the duration of the extreme event, the earlier it began. The 1902 extreme 1-year drought began in September 1901, and the extreme 8-year drought began in 1895.
(4.) The cluster of drought events extending through 1912 and 1916 was as bad as the events of 1902, but quite different. Merely “severe” short-duration events began in April 1911. Events of increasing duration came at later dates, forming a smooth curve on the graph. Beyond 12-month duration, and up to 72-month duration, there were extreme events at nearly all classes of duration. By the 72-month duration, the date of plotting had drifted forward in time to January-July 1916. The beginning of these 72-month events would have been during Continue reading

Manilla’s Record of Droughts

Graph of droughts versus time

In terms of rainfall alone, Manilla, NSW, had droughts between 1900 and 1950 that were more severe, and lasted very much longer than those of recent years.

Comparing droughts

It is hard to say how bad one drought is compared to another because some droughts last longer than others. A drought that lasts two months, and has only 10 mm of rain when it would normally have 100 mm, qualifies as “extreme”. In such a very short drought, rainfall as low as 10% of normal just qualifies as extreme. For a drought lasting twelve months, when there is normally 652 mm of rainfall at Manilla, there has never been a case of a twelve-month rainfall as low as 10% of that (65 mm). (The lowest ever was 288 mm, in 1964-65.) Clearly, using 10% of normal rainfall will not do to define longer-term droughts.
I find the severity of each drought, whether it is long or short, by its percentile rank.
The Bureau of Meteorology defines “Rainfall Deficiency” as:

Lowest on record – lowest since at least 1900 when the data analysed begin.
Severe deficiency – rainfalls in the lowest 5% of historical totals.
Serious deficiency – rainfalls in the lowest 10% of historical totals, but not in the lowest 5%.

On the graph, I use this code:

Extreme rainfall shortage: rainfall in the 1st percentile only.
Severe rainfall shortage: rainfall in the 2nd to 4th percentiles.
Serious rainfall shortage: rainfall in the 5th to 9th percentiles.

Major droughts

All of Manilla’s extreme rainfall droughts that lasted for six years or more happened in the first half of the 20th century. Extreme droughts lasting for thirty years ended during 1940, 1941 and 1947.
Since 1950, the longest extreme drought lasted only five years, ending in 1961. The next longest lasted three years, ending in 1968. The last forty-four years have brought only six extreme droughts, all of less than two years duration: 1971, 1974, 1982, 1984 (2 months!), 1994 and 2002. The twelve years since 2002 may be the longest period without an extreme drought in the whole record since 1883.
Extreme droughts had also been few and short in the earliest years, from 1883 to 1902.

Similar, but much improved graphs

[This graph gives the misleading impression that the longer the duration of rainfall shortage, the later it occurs. That is an artefact.

A shortage of a given duration observed in a particular month must have commenced earlier: earlier by the number of months of its duration, less one.
Graphs that remove this defect, and plot correctly the dates of onset, persistence, and breaking of rainfall shortages are “Rainfall Shortage History: Manilla” and “Rainfall Shortage Jan 2000 – Mar 2019”.

Droughts Elsewhere

At Lake George, in the southern highlands of NSW, extreme droughts of long duration were similarly restricted to the first half of the 20th century, as shown by rainfall records and lake levels.
The “Millennial Drought of southeastern Australia” was not a drought of long duration at either Manilla or Lake George.

[Note added May 2016

Graphical log of droughts, 1884 to 1916The post “Manilla’s Droughts, 1884 to 1916” has an enlarged graph showing more detail. Of the catastrophic droughts of 1902 (“Federation Drought”) and 1912-16, the first had a sudden termination but the second had a sudden onset.]

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