Northland has had its driest start to a year in more than six decades, with little short-term relief on the horizon for drought-stricken farmers.
A drought was officially declared in Northland a week ago after a big dry started sweeping the region in November, but figures released by Niwa yesterday show just how bad the situation is, with record low rainfall, higher than average temperatures and soil moisture levels exceedingly low.
Niwa climate change scientist Georgina Griffiths said even if normal or above normal rainfall landed in March, it would still be "too late" for the region to end its drought.
Dr Griffiths said January and February saw near record low rainfall totals for Whangarei, Kaitaia and Dargaville, with Northland the worst affected part of the country.
Over the first two months of 2013 Whangarei received 23.3mm of rain, its third lowest since records began in 1937 and its lowest since 1949. Kaitaia received 11mm over the same period, the town's worst start to the year since records there began in 1949, while Dargaville received 23mm, its lowest since records began in the Kaipara town in 1943.
She said compounding the problem was that the region had also experienced higher than normal temperatures for the two months.
Dr Griffiths said the situation in Northland was even worse than the drought of 2010, which was then the worst in 60 years.
"And in the short term there's not much relief on the horizon for Northland," she said.
"The highs that have been prevailing and fending off the rain will continue.
"Rainfall totals for the March-May period as a whole are likely to be in the near-normal range for most regions. However, because of the existing soil moisture deficits across the North Island and in the eastern South Island, soil moisture levels and river flows are expected to take some time to recover in these areas."
Dr Griffiths said the "good news" in the longer term was that "the death grips of the high will dissipate during autumn and more normal [autumn] weather will come".
Northland Rural Support Trust spokeswoman Julie Jonker said the rainfall figures showed that it wasn't an over-reaction to declare a drought.
The big dry was hitting farmers hard and it was important they not only looked after each other, but also asked for help if they needed it.
"Farmers need to watch their dry stock, keep an eye on their water supplies and they need to be aware that feed supplies are in short supply so they need to plan now, don't wait," she said.
"They need to get their budgets done as soon as possible whether for the banks or if they want to seek Government financial assistance," Ms Jonker said.
Farmers needing help can contact Northland Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254.