Rain stays away in dry end to the year in Cairns
CAIRNS is facing its driest December in 40 years, forcing authorities to keep a close eye on the region's water levels.
The dry spell is being felt across the Far North, with normally lush gardens looking decidedly brown.
Cairns region cane farmers and residents in fire-ravaged parts of the Tableland and Gulf are also suffering from a lack of rain.
Forecast showers today could save Cairns from the lowest recorded rainfall for December since 1972, when only 31.6mm of rain fell in the region.
As of yesterday, 32.8mm of rain had been recorded this month, well below the December average of 180.7mm.
Local weather bureau forecaster Liz Heba said Cairns had experienced a dry 2012 after two years of a La Nina weather pattern brought heavy rain.
"This year is closer to neutral conditions so we were expecting below or average rainfall," she said.
Copperlode Dam, which holds 37,100 megalitres, isat 82 per cent capacity, with a further 2 per cent drop needed before level one water restrictions come into effect.
"It's remaining steady at the moment," a Cairns Regional Council spokeswoman said.
"We are technically not far off level one water restrictions and the council has been monitoring it."
The restrictions would limit the use of sprinklers in a bid to conserve water.
Farmers are also feeling the heat, with Edmonton cane grower Deano Zappala saying the lack of rain has set him back six weeks.
"Normally by Christmas we would get a good bit of rain but this year unfortunately it hasn't come and it's knocking a lot out of the crop," he said.
"It would have been a very good crop so it's quite disappointing the way the weather has turned out."
While lawns across Cairns are crying out for a good downpour, the dry and hot start to summer has delivered an unexpected benefit for beachgoers, with marine stingers in lower numbers than previous years.
Limberlost Nursery manager Neil Hughes said drought resistant plants had also been popular, as gardeners looked for ways to keep their gardens blossoming in the dry weather.
The fire-ravaged Etheridge Shire will also be hoping for rain soon, with the northern Gulf country facing devastating bushfires and drought.
But it could be a damp end to the year, with forecasters tipping scattered showers about the coast, ranges and southern Tableland today, with possible moderate to heavy falls south of Cairns.
Isolated afternoon and evening showers and thunderstorms are also predicted inland, with Cairns reaching a maximum of 31C.
Meanwhile Cyclone Freda, which last night was developing into a category 3 cyclone in the Solomon Islands, was not expected to have an impact on the Queensland coastline.
Recent December rainfall totals for Cairns: 2011 151.4mm, 2010 362mm, 2009 78.2mm, 2008 195.2mm, 2007 307.96mm, 2006 94.6mm, 2005 35mm
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Desert flowers: Limberlost Nurseries' Neil Hughes with some drought resistant plants. Pictures: MIKE WATT