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Rains Bring Drought Relief to Parched Australia

Australia's worst drought in 100 years is showing signs of easing. While much of the continent remains gripped by dry conditions, the Bureau of Meteorology says in 2008 some regions received a much-needed drenching, easing the arid conditions that have made life so tough for farmers in the few years.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology says that the La Nina weather pattern has delivered above-average rainfall to many drought-hit areas on the eastern side of the continent.

The rains lifted some regions out of drought and forecasters predict more rain in the coming months.

This is in large part a result of the La Nina effect, which refers to the extensive cooling of waters in tropical parts of the Pacific Ocean. The cooling triggers more cloud and rain over parts of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Despite recent downpours over much of Australia - and the prospect of more to come - much of the continent remains in the driest period on record as a result of climate change.

National Climate Center researcher Lynette Bettio says that while recent rains have helped, Australia can expect drier conditions in the longer term.

"Australia's always been, I suppose, at the mercy of the elements," said Bettio. "We have one of the most variable climates in the world in terms of rainfall but dealing with that has always been a challenge and, you know, it's going to continue to be a challenge and perhaps more so in the future."

The severity of the drought forced thousands of farming families to leave the land in the past decade. The Australian government has handed out $1.5 billion in emergency drought relief from 2002 to 2007.

Tough water use restrictions have also been imposed on many Australian cities.

Official studies show that 2008 was among the warmest years in Australia since records began.

The drought reduced farm yields, and contributed to a worldwide surge in grain prices in early 2008. Although global economic problems have reduced commodity prices, better rainfall should bring increased harvests and higher incomes for Australia's hard-pressed agricultural sector.