THE first three months of this year have been the driest the Gisborne district has experienced since the drought of 1983.
Rainfall last month totalled just 19.8 millimetres — less than a quarter of the mean March rainfall of 91.4mm for the 1981-2010 period.
Total rainfall for the year to date is just short of 69mm — a complete contrast to last year when the area had had 400mm by the beginning of April, and less than a third of the mean rainfall recorded for the first three months of the year in the 1981-2000 period.
The last time it was this dry for the first three months of the year was 1983, when just 26.3mm fell in the first quarter.
The first quarter of 1998 was also dry with just 84.6mm of rain.
March was not only a lot drier than usual, it was warmer and sunnier.
While it was not the driest March on record — that dubious distinction fell to 1989 with 8mm — the mean daily temperature was 17.9 degrees, almost half a degree warmer than usual.
The records since 1937 show March has steadily become warmer.
The mean daily temperature for the month was 17.1 for the 1937-1980 period; 17.4 for the 1971-2000 period; and 17.5 for the 1981-2010 period.
The highest air temperature was 29.9 on the 4th and the lowest air temperature 5.6 degrees on the 29th.
People enjoyed the Easter weekend, as the warmth continued with temperatures in the mid-20s and an unseasonal 28 degrees on Monday.
Worrying for farmers, on top of hot days and a lack of rainfall, grass minimum temperatures have been falling and there has been the first touch of frost.
There were six days when the temperature was below 3 degrees — the coldest being a grass minimum of minus 0.4 of a degree on the 29th.
Just over 220 hours of sunshine were recorded for the month — 40 hours more than the March mean of 180 hours.
The soil moisture deficit for the Flats stood at just shy of 140mm at the end of the month, and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) monitoring rates Gisborne and the East Coast with the rest of the North Island above a line from Mahia to Wanganui as “very dry”.
Niwa’s latest seasonal update for the three months to the end of June is issued this afternoon, but the earlier outlook for the three months to the end of May was for near normal or above normal temperatures for the Gisborne-East Coast region, with rainfall near normal or below normal.
However, Niwa said soil moisture and waterway levels would take some time to recover, even with milder weather, because of the effects of the drought.