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Heat, bushfire relief as rainfall expected to sweep across Australia

Bushfires threaten properties near Kilmore South, Victoria, on Monday.

Bushfires threaten properties near Kilmore South, Victoria, on Monday. Photo: Jason South

Parched farms and weary firefighters across Australia can expect at least temporary relief in coming days, with the remnants of a deep monsoonal low pressure system driving the biggest rain event for some regions in two years.

The rain will reach as much as 95 per cent of the country, including areas of northern NSW and inland Queensland that have been hit hard by drought, said Brett Dutschke, senior meteorologist with Weatherzone.

“There is some potential for significant rain falling in these most-severe drought areas,” said Dr Dutschke. Models suggest at least 15 millimetres of rain for those regions, while at least 80 per cent of NSW can expect 25 millimetres or more from Friday through the weekend, he said.

Last six months: rain in Australia falls mainly in the west.

Last six months: rain in Australia falls mainly in the west. Photo: BoM

For Sydney, rainfall totals may be 20-40 millimetres, the most since spring, Dr Dutschke said. The falls, also starting on Friday and extending until Sunday, will still leave the city on track for its driest summer since 1975, he said.

The summer to date is the Harbour City's third driest, desiccating most parks and playing fields.

For Victoria, the rain is likely to be heaviest in the north with as much as 45 millimetres on Friday in Mildura, but lighter falls closer to the coast. Nevertheless, areas around Kilmore, to Melbourne's north, should get about 10 millimetres of rain, enough to help firefighters in those areas gain the upper hand, Dr Dutschke said.

Rainfall expected February 12-15.

Rainfall expected February 12-15. Photo: BoM

Fires burning in the east of Victoria, some of them several weeks old, are unlikely to receive enough rain to be extinguished.

Drought relief

The much-needed rain comes as federal and state governments prepare increased aid to farmers battling the big dry. Federal cabinet is expected to release details soon about accelerated financial assistance for farmers, particularly in Queensland – which is 70 per cent drought-declared.

Total rainfall forecast for next eight days.

Total rainfall forecast for next eight days. Photo: BoM

The NSW government on Wednesday announced an expansion of its temporary package of drought support to another 20 local government areas, covering most of the state's north.

The aid includes freight support for as much as $20,000 per producer, waiving of certain rates, and as much as $30,000 per farmer for water infrastructure.

The extra support is back-dated to January 1 and almost doubles in cost – from $7.6 million to $14.6 million – while extending the assistance beyond the Bourke, Brewarrina and Walgett areas. The added areas stretch from Broken Hill in the far west, to Tamworth and Tenterfield in the north-east.

Areas to receive NSW government drought help.

Areas to receive NSW government drought help. Photo: NSW government

Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said the measures were funded until June 30, and called on the federal government “to urgently release details” of its plans.

“There is a clear need for the Commonwealth to now put forward a comprehensive package to assist primary producers to respond to this drought,” Mr Stoner said.

“Despite our landholders being drought-prepared and on the front foot when it comes to maximising their properties' water storage, this extreme weather has delivered a real blow to their way of life,” he said.

Fiona Simson, president of the NSW Farmers Association, said the NSW government should make public how it decides which areas will get assistance and when, given it had abolished making regions “drought declared” when rains fail.

Based on previous methods, about half of NSW would be drought declared, not far behind Queensland, Ms Simson said.

Drought aid push

The National Farmers Federation, meanwhile, plans to unveil its drought support recommendations on Thursday.

These include lowering the interest rate on farming finance loans to as low as 3 per cent from 4.5 per cent, and providing short-term wage assistance and household income support so farms could survive until the weather breaks, said Matt Linnegar, chief executive of the federation.

“Unfortunately for many of these people, they went through an eight or nine-year drought, had two or three reasonable years to get back on their feet, and now they’ve been hit again,” Mr Linnegar said.

Contrary to earlier reports that farmers may seek as much as $7 billion in assistance, the cost of the NFF's package would like to be "less than a billion", he said.

Second notable rain event

Weatherzone's Dr Dutschke said farmers across much of the country may get a second notable rain event by late February or early March, helping to build on the relief expected in the new few days.

The end of the belting heatwaves across southern Australia this summer may also be in sight.

Adelaide copped its 13th day this summer of 40 degrees or warmer weather on Wednesday, beating the previous record of 11 such days in 1897-98. Rain arriving from Thursday could easily top 40 millimetres for the city.

“The chance of receiving significant heat after this [rain event] will diminish significantly,” Dr Dutschke.

Heatwaves can occur in March as well, “which is the next best chance of one” for southern Australia, he said.

“If the monsoon happens to be in a weakened form for long enough during late February into March, then the risk of a heatwave is still there,” he said.

Longer term, though, conditions in the Pacific are pointing to the formation of an El Nino weather pattern that may spell more bad news for farmers and elevate fire risks next summer.

An El Nino, which typically shifts rainfall eastwards over the Pacific Ocean, drying out eastern Australia, “is increasingly likely to develop”, Dr Dutschke said, echoing reports from the Bureau of Meteorology and agencies overseas.

Still, provided the El Nino is a weak one, rainfall across Australia “is unlikely to go a long way below average before the end of the year”, he said.

Weatherzone is owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of this website.

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