Dry as a bone - Tamworth's driest January in 115 years; region's water supplies at critical levels

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If it doesn’t rain today – and it would be a meteorological miracle if it does – then Tamworth will have recorded its driest January in at least 115 years.

In fact it could be the driest January in our history but the accuracy of some data from 120 years ago is suspect. But what the Bureau of Meteorology can tell us is that where January is historically the wettest month of all in Tamworth, 2014 so far has delivered the driest one ever.

Country music fans will have noticed. It generally wouldn’t be a Tamworth country music festival without rain - but it was.

In fact, the records show that just 0.2 of a millimetre of rain - that’s about six spots on the old timers’ scale - fell in Tamworth somewhere on Saturday January 15.

Apart from that, we didn’t record one other spot of rain in the whole 30 days.

Bureau met officer Bruce Copplestone said January in Tamworth looked like going into the record books for the driest of reasons.

“Since 1889 we have never had such a low figure. We had 3.6mm recorded in January 2002 and 2.3mm in January in 1942,” Mr Copplestone said.

“The average rainfall or the mean for January in Tamworth is 85.4mm, generally it is our wettest month.”

In 2004 January delivered nearly 228mm in Tamworth and 260mm in the January of 1984. Both of those months also saw big flood events with evacuations and record river rises.

Our wettest ever January was in 1976 when we recorded nearly 322mm.

And while the records might be tumbling, there’re predictions the rain won’t at least for months. There’s a bit of a sprinkle expected in mid February, according to some long range forecasts, but February is expected to be mainly dry and some seasonal forecasts suggest it will be drier than average with no widespread rain across the continent until December.

It is a harsh outlook for farmers and householders alike.

Carters are reporting they’re delivering water to farms where dams have dried and bores have run dry. The numbers of droving stock herds has increased and many district farmers are taking their cattle out the farm gate and along roadsides and stock routes.

At Bendemeer yesterday, the water supply reached another critical level. Already restricted to using only buckets to water their gardens from the village supply, they’re facing the prospect of running out of water completely from the current supply point in the Macdonald River.

Tamworth Regional Council water director Bruce Logan repeated calls for residents there to go easy and cut their daily use by about a half - or emergency and extreme measures, costing plenty of money and a lot of infrastructure work, will have to be introduced to deliver them town water.

Mr Logan said there were 145 town water users connected to the Bendemeer system, 121 of them residential users. 

The council had letterbox dropped the village on Wednesday, asking them to stop all outdoor watering and restrict consumption to essential use only, “otherwise we might not be able to continue to supply treated water.”

Mr Logan said it was a harsh note but aimed to send a scary message about the seriousness of the situation.

“It’s too close for comfort, it’s not comfortable at all, and yes, absolutely, this is the worst situation we’ve seen since the drought of 2007. If that hole empties, we will need to do emergency work,” he said, referring to the supply point in the river in the middle of Bendemeer that is putting water into the village pump. 

He said preliminary figures yesterday morning indicated villagers looked like they’d heeded the appeal to cut use.

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