Drought continues to bite in Nth Island

The parched North Island won't see rain for at least a week as hot, dry weather continues to dominate in what has been described as one of the worst droughts since the 1940s.

Farmers say they are set to lose a third of their incomes and the $1 billion cost to the economy so far is rising every day.

The MetService says it will remain dry over most of the country next week but there is a glimmer of hope, with the chance of rain next weekend.

Forecaster Gerard Barrow said a low was forming in the Tasman Sea, but it was too early to know if it would track across the country.

"To say that rain could come to drought-stricken areas - we're not in a position to give people that sort of hope just yet."

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills, a Hawkes Bay sheep and cattle farmer, said the cost to the economy was increasing day by day.

ANZ has estimated the cost to the economy at $1 billion, which could blow out in the coming months, Mr Wills said.

"The cost to the economy is hard to say because it is growing more day by day that it doesn't rain.

"There has not been a drought like this in Hawkes Bay since 1952 and that is 60 years ago.

"It is difficult to put a cost on the whole drought for the farmers and the economy but it is going up everyday, we just don't know when it is going to rain."

Climate change expert Dr Jim Salinger said the North Island had not experienced a drought so severe for 70 years.

In the season to February 28, the North Island lost 362mm of moisture from the soil through evaporation - making it a far drier season than the 1945/46 season which recorded 361mm for the entire season from July 1945 to June 1946, Dr Salinger said.

Mr Wills agreed with Dr Salinger's assessment.

"It seems about right when you consider the worst drought in Hawkes Bay," he said.

"The drought in 2007 and 2009 was bad and the cost to the economy amounted to $2.8 billion. It's not up there yet but we simply don't know when it is going to rain."

Mr Wills said the drought was going to cost him about a third of his income.

Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay have all been officially declared drought zones and farmers from Manawatu-Rangitikei, Wairarapa and Taranaki hope to follow suit next week so they can have access to government benefits.

Mr Wills said the South Island was in better shape than the North Island because it was getting more rain and "hopefully it will stay that way".

And Dr Salinger said while the South Island was dry, he did not anticipate any of the regions would be declared drought-affected.

"This is definitely a North Island event."

WeatherWatch.co.nz forecaster Philip Duncan also predicted a dry week ahead but said hope was on the horizon.

"It's looking pretty dry next week...but the high that's bringing us this dry weather looks like it has a challenge for the first time in months and that's from the tropics."

He said four low pressure systems and a tropical cyclone were starting to build up and develop.

"By next weekend we hope it will start to be more of a challenge for the dry weather."

It depended on the weakness of the high that was sitting over the country at the moment as to how far south the rain would go, Mr Duncan said.

Public 'Farming in Drought' farm days in Wellington, Rotorua and Tauranga are being held to show how farms are coping with the drought.

Federated Farmers Wairarapa provincial president Jamie Falloon said they felt the public would want to know more about the situation.

"Drought is a huge challenge to any farmer...we want to show our public what we do with everything from pasture right through to animal welfare."

- Rebecca Quilliam and Melissa Hills of APNZ

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