Drought stricken paddocks near Featherston in early December last year. PHOTO/FILE

BECKIE WILSON

beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

It may be too early to use the word drought, but as Wairarapa’s weather warms up, meteorologists are keeping a very close eye on the drying conditions.

The region is going through a dry period months earlier than normal, and coupled with minimal rain in the forecast, “the message may be more urgent now this year, than the last few”, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research [NIWA] meteorologist Ben Noll said.

Compared to the rest of the country, Wairarapa has very low soil moisture levels, and well below normal rainfall for an October.

The current dry period is expected to linger until later this week.

But looking forward in rainfall predictions, there will be a change in weather patterns as a number of fronts pass over the country later this month and early November.

However, Noll said these patterns would likely favour the west coast of the North Island.

It appeared that any weather pattern coming through with rain would be “short-lived” and the region would quickly settle back into dryness.

“I think that’s the concern.

“Obviously heading into the season where the rate in which water leaves the ground is increasing dramatically, it is not great news.

“But while it’s too early to mention drought, in terms of dryness we are ahead of the curve,” Noll said.

Last summer Wairarapa experienced some of the country’s driest periods, and was deemed in drought for a short period in late December and early January this year.

Compared to October in 2017 and 2016, the region’s soil moisture levels are significantly lower.

“Wairarapa is one of the driest regions compared to normal at the moment,” Noll said.

“It’s certainly something we are watching very closely.”

In terms of rainfall, NIWA records show Wairarapa levels are well below normal for the first three weeks of October.

Most of the region had received less than 50 per cent of average rainfall, and in some places it was down by 80 per cent.

Nationally, this made the region the furthest from average rainfall for the month, Noll said.

Carterton farmer Shane McManaway said in the past couple of weeks, he and many farmers had noticed how dry it was for this time of year.

This time of year was vital for spring crops needed for lambs and calves, and well as supplementary feed for the summer period.

“It’s a really critical time on the farm, and there are a lot of crops that have been sown and they need rain,” McManaway said.

In contrast, Martinborough’s Palliser Wines chief executive Pip Goodwin said the main concern at the moment was frosts.

Recently, the vines had suffered from a handful of frosts, which was a change from last season, she said.

The heat was not a concern at the moment, Goodwin said.