BOM forecasts wet autumn for some as La Niña weather system declines


The much-discussed La Niña phenomenon has brought the best wet season for years in the Top End and a welcome change to rainier conditions for most of the country, but some still missed out this summer.

And the Bureau of Meteorology [BOM] autumn outlook is for wetter-than-average conditions in the east.

According to BOM climatologist Naomi Benger, La Niña will continue to wield influence into autumn even though it is weakening.

“The typical lifecycle of La Niña is that it decays through autumn,” she said.

“We are expecting it to decay through early autumn, but we are still seeing quite strong signals in the atmosphere, even though some of the oceanic measurements are hinting towards the decay.”

Hence, encouraging signs of rain in areas that need it.

“We are expecting above average rainfall in eastern and some northern parts, including those parts of Queensland that have missed out so far this year,” Dr Benger said.

And cyclone season isn’t over until the end of April.

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Above-average minimum temperatures are expected to continue across most of the country, with the exception of central and western South Australia and south-eastern Western Australia.

Daytime temperatures are expected to be above average for the far north and south as well as the far west.

Bring on the wet

So far, La Niña’s impact has fallen well short of infamous flood years like 2011 and 1974.

Summer still has a few days to go and, according to Dr Benger, rain has been above average for the nation as a whole and the highest seen since the summer of 2016-17.

The Top End is finally enjoying a wet season worthy of the name after the last two failed. The Red Centre is tinged with green and Uluru’s valleys have become waterfalls several times this summer.

It has rained on the rock several times this wet season.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

Trevor Durling, senior planning engineer at the Northern Territory Power and Water Corporation, said its water supply security is currently well placed thanks to the above average rains they have had so far across the Territory.

“The Darwin River Dam is currently at approximately 80% capacity, the highest it has been since 2018, when it last overflowed,” he said.

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The level dipped as low as 50% capacity prior to this wet season’s rains.

“With the ground saturated, we are expecting further runoff into the reservoir from the catchment regardless of how much additional rain there may be,” according to Mr Durling.

“There are still two months of the wet season ahead, so we anticipate further good rainfall in the Top End region.”

Fiery in the south-west

For Western Australia, the biggest impacts of the La Niña weather pattern have been felt in the water.

For most of January WA’s vast coastline was under marine heatwave conditions, 2-3 degrees above average in Geraldton and Broome.

Like the Northern Territory, pastoralists in WA’s north are also hailing it “the best start to the wet season” in years.

But as in the years preceding it, La Niña has brought little rain for southern Western Australia, with little reprieve for firefighters facing challenging conditions.

A map that shows average to low rainfall in south west WA and parts of QLD.
The map shows rainfall anomalies for Australia in December 2020 and January 2021. Average to below areas can be seen around southern WA and Queensland.(Bureau of Meteorology)

A rainfall deficit in the winter and spring made southern WA one of the few places with “above normal” fire severity for December to February. Inner New South Wales and the ACT were also rated above normal.

Department of Fire and Emergency Service (DFES) WA rural fire division executive director Murray Carter said crews had battled several fires this year, the worst of them the Wooroloo bushfires, in Perth’s east, which destroyed 86 homes this month.

A plume of red smoke in the distance, taken from a hill in Bullsbrook.
Flames and smoke rise from the massive Wooroloo bushfire, as seen from a property in Bullsbrook.(Supplied: Rachael Harpley)

Mr Carter said a slow-moving tropical low that inundated the Gascoyne region at the start of this month had provided some benefit to the southern part of the state.

In the space of two days in February, Perth received almost three times its monthly average of rain.

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“It’s taken us from above average and worrying conditions to average,” Mr Carter said.

But he warned the bushfire season was far from over.

“Western Australia will be on an average outlook but I don’t want to sell that short because average for us is still serious fire conditions,” he said.

Bushfire outlook

That was a sentiment echoed by John Bates, research director at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.

The official autumn bushfire outlook, also released today, suggests most of the country can expect average fire conditions this autumn.

map of Aus showing above average fire potential in parts of Qld but below normal for northern Qld and parts of Vic
Fire conditions are expected to be normal for most of the country.(Bushfire and natural hazards CRC)

But according to Dr Bates the risk of grass and crop fires continues in the coming months, particularly where rain has created good growing conditions.

“Autumn will still see hot and windy days that raise the fire risk in some locations,” he said.

Areas that have missed out on rain so far in Queensland are at above average risk.

“But when the weather conditions allow, the March to May period is a good time of year for prescribed burning,” according to Dr Bates.

Map of Aus mainly white but red for the coasts and for Tas
Maximum temperatures are expected to be average for much of continental Australia but above average around the coasts and for Tasmania.(Bureau of Meteorology)

“However, in northern Australia, the good wet season means that prescribed burning will be difficult in the coming months.”

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Residents of Nauiyu and Daly River region prepare for ‘moderate flood levels’


Residents in the Northern Territory community of Nauiyu and the Daly River region are being told to prepare for moderate flood levels as the river continues to rise.

The NT Bureau of Meteorology has advised that the river could reach the moderate flood levels by tomorrow.

The Daly River reached 12.6 metres, which constitutes a minor flood level, at the police station on Wednesday.

NT police have been advised the river may peak at a moderate flood level of between 13.6 and 13.8 metres over the weekend.

But NT Police said the river was not expected to reach major flood levels.

Incident Controller Commander Janelle Tonkin said there had been no evacuation order yet.

“The local community is well prepared and they have done this before — they know what to expect.

“That said, planning is well underway if the situation changes and the predicted river height passes that threshold.”

About 330 people live in the Daly River community, about 220kms south of Darwin.

Daily meetings are being held with residents so they can be updated on the river height and advice from emergency services.

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, a Nauiyu resident and the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year, has called for community calm.

“I’m saying settle down, calm down, slow down — the river is only coming up very slow.”

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann is a resident and community leader of Nauiyu.(ABC News: Sowaibah Hanifie)

But Ms Ungunmerr-Baumann said she was comfortable with how preparations were going.

“I know it is scary for us, sometimes when it is like this. But we go along with it slowly.

Resident John Daly said so far things were progressing in an orderly fashion.

“They’ll have meetings today; they’ll talk about evacuations and things like that, and where people are going,” he said.

“Some people will head out of the community and go out, it’s just an orderly process that we go through. It’s a part of life with growing up on a river system.

“It’s a beautiful place down here, but floods are part and parcel of living on a river.”

John Daly, an Indigenous man from Nauiyu community, stands and looks concerned.
John Daly said that he has seen a lot of flood evacuations at Naiuyu in the past.(ABC News: Sowaibah Hanifie)

Mr Daly said he’d weathered a few floods in his time.

“As long back as I can remember, when we used to do the evacuations in the past, we just used to camp out in army tents on the other side of the water,” he said.

“The river comes up, it comes down. I think it is good for the country that we have got so much water.”

NT Police have sent additional staff to assist in community preparations and the Northern Territory Emergency Service has sent three additional boats to the community in case they are required to help move people in low-lying areas

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Garden: Rain turns March from busy to frantic


By GEOFF MIERS

With rain in January and February this year conditions are absolutely ideal for starting March gardening activities 10 to 14 days earlier than normal.

The soil temperatures have cooled improving seed germination and root growth on transplants and with everything so well watered gardening is easy with digging no longer a real chore.

We have not enjoyed such a start to autumn for several years. If you are wanting to start a new garden or replant existing gardens that need reinvigorating or simply planting winter crops the time is fast approaching.

Weed issues will be a problem for most gardeners over the next month. Tackle them with gusto and within a week or two your garden should be weed free ready for planting.

To repeat I started tackling potential weed issues within two hours of the rain stopping and they are already fast disappearing.

I had literally thousands of weeds emerge after the January and February rains. Within a few days of the weeds emerging I lightly sprayed and within the week a weed could not be seen.

Half an hour spraying is far superior to hours of digging out mature weeds and having to cart them out to the landfill.   

Once you have tackled the weeds give the garden a good spring clean, pruning as required, raking up surplus leaves, turning beds and introducing fertilisers and other necessary ingredients to improve the soil.

A beauty: Ruby saltbush.

From early March to early May it is a great time to be planting whether in the vegetable, bulb, flowering annual or herb gardens or planting generally throughout the garden.

The vegetables that can be planted now are many and varied. Beet root, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages, Chinese spinach, endive, lettuce, leaks, onions, parsnips and silver beet are all best planted this month for optimum results.

Further broad beans, cauliflower, celery, cress, French beans, parsley, peas, potatoes, radish, shallots, spring onions, swedes, sweet corn and zucchini can also be planted now.

Nurseries are likely to be still be a week or two away from totally restocking with seedlings until once the weather has cooled to the low-mid 30’s.   

In the flower garden the diversity is huge. Old summer favorites such as petunias, gazanias, Sea-side Daisies, verbena and marigolds can be planted however many gardeners thoughts should already be turning towards planting the vast array of Winter and Spring flowering annuals.

Stocks, alyssum, primula, lobelia, pansies, viola, ageratum, anemone, snap dragons, calendula, candytuff, carnations, corn flowers, cineraria, chrysanthemum, gypsophila, helichrysum, linaria, lupins, nasturtiums, nemesia, poppies and wall flowers are other winter flowering annuals that can be planted from now onwards.

Annual wild flowers should also be sown this month, including the ever popular Sturt’s Desert Pea, everlastings and many other Central Australian flowering annuals.

Roses should continue to be dead-headed if already flowering. To improve your March/April rose display prune immediately if pruning wasn’t undertaken in February. Follow pruning with a side-dressing with a complete NPK rose fertiliser.

Nice: Button grass.

Prune and fertilise your roses now and you will be rewarded with a magnificent April flush of blooms.

Sweet peas are best planted over the next 5-6 weeks along with snow peas, commencing planting from the first week of March. As the soil temperature slowly cools germination rates quickly become high. Plant, water in and almost totally refrain from watering as over-watering will cause the seeds to rot.

Sweet peas are traditionally planted on Saint Patrick’s Day on the 17th March.

In the general garden take advantage of the recent rains and plant to your hearts content. Planting now your plants will quickly settle with little stress and quickly burst forth with new growth.

We are likely to get some warm weather but not the 40 degree days we had at the beginning of March two years. The rain has most definitely brought the planting season forward by at last 2-3 weeks.

Buffel – get rid of it.

Most nurseries will be well stocked with last Autumn and Spring propagated plants just waiting to be planted. Many gardeners believe that their Autumn plantings of native plant stock establish better than Spring plantings.

Food plants including grape vines, fruit trees, tropical fruiting species and citrus can all be planted now. Your tropical species including guava, banana, pawpaw and mangoes if planted now will be well established prior to the cooler months arriving.

Citrus, fruit trees, olives, grape vines and lawns should all be fertilised if not already undertaken. It’s also an ideal time to plant new lawns .

Lastly after this recent rain pest problems are likely to explode and gardeners need to be vigilant and take decisive actions to limit pest and disease problems. More on that next week.

PHOTOS: For those who start a garden from scratch, here are a few plants to keep, including the Three Cornered Jack (at top) because the orange tailed black cockatoos love them.

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’An absolute goofball but everyone loved him for it’



A young man killed in a workplace accident in the Riverland on Tuesday lived for his friends and loved his job.

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Northern Territory government under fire over standards of staff behaviour and transparency


The Gunner Labor government has come under sustained scrutiny as questions over its standards of transparency and staff behaviour have consumed another day of NT Parliament.

Over the past week, the Member for Blain, Mark Turner, was expelled from the Labor caucus after Michael Gunner told Parliament he failed to be upfront over his intimate relationship with a “private citizen”.

A Labor staff member also resigned over the issue and, while that person was named in Parliament today, the ABC is for legal reasons unable to name him at this time.

In a separate matter, the CLP member for the Alice Springs seat of Braitling, Josh Burgoyne, today accused an unnamed ministerial staffer of using “threatening, abusive and harassing words” during a run-in outside Parliament last Thursday night.

Attorney-General Selena Uibo, in whose office the person works, told Parliament the staff member had received a formal warning over the incident.

She then read a written apology from the staff member largely confirming Mr Burgoyne’s account.

“I was unnecessarily provocative in what I said in reference to the Member for Braitling, in a way which he could hear,” the statement read.

“I assert to the house that I did not use swear words, but the Member for Braitling believes I did and has been insulted by the content of my comments.

Leader of Government Business, Natasha Fyles, rejected a bid by the CLP to refer the matter to a parliamentary investigation committee, saying it wasn’t within the committee’s jurisdiction.

That prompted an attack from Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro.

“The fact that they are not going to accept this referral to the Privileges Committee has got to be one of the all-time lows when it comes to scrutiny, transparency, upholding the integrity of the Parliament and doing what is right,” Ms Finocchiaro said.

She was joined in her critique by Independent MLA Robyn Lambley, who urged her parliamentary colleagues to “lift the standard of behaviour and integrity, not lower the bar like we’ve seen this afternoon”.

‘Kids play with memes, we make decisions’

Mr Gunner’s handling of the issues plaguing his party has seen him come under pressure from members of Territory Labor’s youth wing.

In a letter posted to Facebook, the president of NT Young Labor condemned the Chief Minister’s push to have Mr Turner’s party membership revoked.

“I write today to express some concerns held by NTYL members from the Palmerston branch,” the group’s president, Lithira Abeysinghe, wrote in the post, which was later deleted.

“We make a plea for the president of the party as well as the general membership to not revoke the party membership of Mark Turner MLA.”

Chief Minister Michael Gunner has faced more than a week of criticism over issues plaguing his party.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Mr Abeysinghe praised Mr Turner for being responsible for the involvement of several young activists in the party.

In his letter, Mr Abeysinghe suggested the Chief Minister lacked a spine.

“I also write to you in the hopes you will assist us in our search for our parliamentary leader’s vertebrate (sic).”

The Chief Minister later told Parliament: “With respect to Young Labor, while the kids play with the memes, we have to make decisions and we have made those decisions and we stand by those decisions.”

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Youtube streaming of NT police officer Zachary Rolfe’s murder trial raised as concern in court


The murder trial of Constable Zachary Rolfe could be streamed on YouTube to Alice Springs and the remote community of Yuendumu, where 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker died in November 2019.

At a pre-trial hearing in the Northern Territory Supreme Court today, Chief Justice Michael Grant said the court’s administration was hoping to allow the broadcast of proceedings.

He said it would be streamed to the courthouse in Alice Springs and at the school in the community of Yuendumu, about 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an image of a person who has died.

“There would be a facilitator [in Darwin] who would close down the broadcast whenever court is closed, whenever arguments are being made in the absence of the jury and otherwise, whenever the trial judge ordered,” he said.

Crown Prosecutor Sophie Callan said the prosecution would not oppose the streaming of the trial to Yuendumu, but questioned whether other members of the public could access it.

Kumanjayi Walker was killed in November 2019.(Supplied: Facebook)

Constable Rolfe’s defence lawyer, David Edwardson QC, said he had concerns about whether this would mean witnesses could potentially access the proceedings.

“We’d be most concerned if the public — the wider public — could access it outside of the hall,” he said.

Justice Grant acknowledged the concerns but reminded lawyers that any member of the public would be entitled to come to court and watch the proceedings.

“I imagine it will be possible to have a police officer located in the school hall at Yuendumu, able to give effect to any order the trial judge makes for witnesses to remove themselves from the premises,” Justice Grant said.

He said he would raise the matter with court staff.

The matter will return to court at the end of March.

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Council: instability at the top



By KIERAN FINNANE After just six months in the job, the Town Council’s Director of Community Development, Kim Sutton, has resigned. The resignation appears to be effective immediately as an email to Ms Sutton on her council account receives an automatic reply: “Please be advised that Kim Sutton is no longer employed by the Alice […]

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Mount Etna Eruption Ranks Among Its ‘Strongest’ in Recent Years



Lava spewed from a crater at Mount Etna late on February 20 and into the early hours of February 21 as the volcano erupted for the fourth time in four days, according to local reports. According to the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), debris from the eruption was expelled more than one kilometer above the volcano. The event was “one of the strongest paroxysmal episodes” that has taken place at Mount Etna in recent years, INGV said. Credit: INGV via Storyful

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Coronavirus vaccine rollout begins in NT as frontline workers get first Pfizer shots


The coronavirus vaccine rollout has begun in the Northern Territory, with at-risk frontline workers receiving their first doses of the Pfizer shot in Darwin.

“It was fine. It didn’t hurt at all. A very straightforward process — the staff in there have got it down pat,” Erica Bleakley, a quarantine worker who received one of the first shots, said.

“We’ve had numerous positives coming back from overseas.

“So knowing that we’re protected from catching it ourselves, but also we’re less likely to be spreading it throughout our community, is really important for us.”

The first shipment of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine arrived in Darwin yesterday, with a second arriving in Central Australia today.

The NT government says it expects 4,500 Territorians to be vaccinated during phase 1A of the vaccine rollout, which covers quarantine and border control workers, high-risk healthcare workers and disability and aged care residents and workers.

NT health authorities will administer about 800 vaccines in the next week, including in Alice Springs, where the rollout will begin tomorrow.

Aged care residents will also begin receiving vaccinations today, with the federal government expecting the vaccine to be rolled out at seven residential aged care facilities across the NT.

Earlier today, thousands of frontline workers across Australia began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, which people require two doses of at least three weeks apart.

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World War II survivor Jane Malysiak became the first Australian to be vaccinated against the virus in Sydney on Sunday.

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles today encouraged all Territorians to get vaccinated as the rollout progressed.

“It’s really important for Territorians to understand that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, it is effective, and it has been rigorously tested and approved by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Association),” she said.

“The process around the COVID-19 vaccine — although it has been efficient in its development worldwide — has still gone through all the checks and balances.

“If people want to go back to what life was like pre-COVID-19, the vaccine is the most important tool in doing so.”

The start date of the second stage of the vaccine rollout in the NT — phase 1B — is not yet known, but health authorities anticipate that stage getting underway at the end of March.

Indigenous Territorians aged 55 and older are among the phase 1B group alongside Territorians aged 70 and over, some emergency services personnel and the remainder of the health workforce not included in 1A.

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