Meteorological drought has already been declared in parts of Northland whereas recent sporadic showers may be the saving grace elsewhere as another big dry looms for the rest of summer.
Niwa says the driest soil across the North Island, when compared to normal for this time of the year, are found in the Far North areas such as Kaitaia, Aupouri Peninsula, and surrounding areas— some of which received 5mm or less rain in the last few weeks.
The climate agency has declared meteorological drought and severe meteorological drought in those areas, given the significant soil moisture deficits, low rainfall, and the amount of water the ground is losing due to evaporation.
Niwa climate scientist Ben Noll said two consecutive years of severe drought conditions at this time of the year in Northland would impact on sectors like primary industries, strain water supplies and lower river and stream flows.
"However, there's more opportunity for rain this time compared to last year and at the end of the next three months, I expect some rain but also extended dry spells," Noll said.
Niwa is predicting temperatures in Northland between now until the end of April are likely to be above average, rainfall totals equally likely to be near or below normal, and extended dry spells are expected to continue with the potential for sporadic heavy rainfall.
Soil moisture levels and river flows are most likely to be below normal.
Hotspot conditions are now widespread across nearly all of Northland, Auckland, northern Waikato, and the east coast.
Regions experiencing significant soil moisture deficits are deemed "hotspots". Persistent hotspot regions have the potential to develop into drought.
MetService figures show the most rain in Northland this week fell on Wednesday, with Kaitaia — one of the driest areas in the region — the biggest beneficiary.
The town received 29mm of rain, Kerikeri, 25.6mm, Whangārei 19.4mm, Kaikohe 18mm, and Dargaville just 5.6mm from midnight Monday to 4pm on Friday.
For the Waimarie Nurseries in Whangārei, a combination of a lack of rain and demand for water by growers and farmers in Poroti are putting a strain on aquifers and other water sources.
Although the nurseries are being watered daily, office administrator Sharon Ware said the quantity and quality of water by the time it reached the plants were low.
The nurseries are run by the Waimarie Marae Trust and chairman Toma Arama said resource consents for water issued to avocado and kiwi orchardists, among others, exacerbated the demand for water.
"We're looking forward to expanding the growth of native trees to fit in with the government's environment planning so we'll need more water. There has to be sensible allocation of water," he said.
Arama said if persistent dry weather continued during summer, the amount of water in aquifers and tributaries will plummet further.
While intermittent rain will likely get Northland through this summer in terms of water availability, dairy farmers say a good milk payout would compensate the cost of buying additional feed.
Ruawai dairy farmer Garth Preston said the situation was "pretty dire" in areas where cows, being fed once a day, could certainly eat a lot more.
"We'll limp our way through February/March. For us, a below average season could be saved by another good payout. It's a bad dry but not as bad as this time last year, but we're getting close," he said.
Terence Brocx of Okaihau said 2021 could be another challenging year for dairy farmers as the situation was becoming dire pretty quick in some areas as rain was patchy across the region.
He received 54mm of rain in January but 94mm fell on his neighbour's farm just 5km away.
"We haven't got much silage left. Maize is okay but that's feed allocated to other times of the year. Cows will be drying off much earlier than usual," Brocx said.
Chairman of the Northland Rural Support Trust Chris Neill said river flows have responded to the rain this week but were generally very low compared to long term averages.
He said the forecast was a 60 per cent chance of good rain next week which would improve soil moisture levels and river flows.
The Northland Adverse Events Team will meet next week to review where the predicted rain has fallen and reassess needs, and again in a fortnight to determine if further support is required in rural communities.
The Government has allocated $200,000 for the Farm Business Advice Support Fund, which is managed by Rural Support Trusts.
Qualifying farmers can receive up to $6000 for independent financial or business advice.
Applications can be made through www.rural-support.org.nz/what-we-do/Financial.
Some areas across Northland received decent rain in January, according to stats provided by the Northland Regional Council.
Weka Weka Rd in Waimamauku received the highest rainfall of 120mm, followed by Paparoa (108mm), Kaikohe (97.8mm), Waitangi at Ohaeawai (89mm), and Waima at Tutamoe (86mm).
Typical January rain in Weka Weka Rd is152mm, 61.4mm, Kaikohe 100mm, Waitangi 93.2mm, and Waima 94.6mm.
Kimberley Rd in Waihopo (28mm) received the lowest rain.