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  • Author or Editor: R. Fawcett x
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B. Timbal and R. Fawcett

Abstract

The instrumental record for rainfall across Australia is regarded as being sufficiently reliable to produce national monthly gridded rainfall analyses from 1900 onward. Prior to 1900, the rainfall gauge network is much sparser. The possibility of using those nineteenth-century observations that do exist to construct an estimate of rainfall across the southeastern part of Australia (SEA) is explored by constructing a network based on 11 locations comprising either single observing sites or composites of nearby observing sites with long continuous records. It is shown that, during the period 1900–2010, the monthly rainfall reconstruction based on this network captures 98% of the variability of SEA monthly average rainfall. This network, which extends back to 1865, provides a useful view of the Federation Drought, making a comparison possible with other long-term droughts observed in SEA, around the time of the Second World War and the Millennium Drought from 1997 to 2009. A comparison of these three historical low-rainfall periods was conducted using the drought–depth–duration criteria: the ongoing decline in southeastern Australia is seen as being notably worse than the previous two historical droughts. The network also provides an insight into the decadal variability of SEA rainfall in the later part of the nineteenth century; it includes a high peak in the 1870s comparable to similar wet decadal peaks in the 1950s and 1970s. The implications of this longer perspective on the decadal variability in southeastern Australia in light of the current understanding of the ongoing rainfall deficit are discussed.

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