In studies of temporal variation in dust activity, rainfall recorded at the same location as the dust events (local rainfall) has commonly been used as a climatic control variable. The main objectives of this note are to test the validity of using local rainfall and to determine the improvement in the relationship between rainfall and dust activity that could be achieved by using regional rainfall in the dust source area. For the period 1960‐1989 at Mildura, Australia, the likely dust source area was identified by analysing wind direction during dust events. It was found that a marked improvement in the correlation between dust activity and antecedent rainfall can be achieved by using the regional source area rainfall rather than local rainfall. The improved correlation suggests that widespread drought is more important than local below‐average rainfall in intensifying dust activity.