Our weather in 2019: Warmest and driest ever

Our weather in 2019: Warmest and driest ever

Last year was the warmest and driest on record for Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology reports in its 2019 Annual Climate Statement.

The mean temperature was 1.52 °C above average, the warmest since consistent national temperature records began in 1910, while the average rainfall total was 277mm, the lowest since consistent national records began in 1900.

The previous record low was 314mm, set during the Federation drought in 1902.

Other data on the BOM website reveals that Bellingen Shire received about half its usual rainfall in 2019, with Kalang getting 740mm instead of 1516mm and Dorrigo 923mm instead of 1827mm.

Bureau of Meteorology head of climate monitoring Dr Karl Braganza said the record warm and dry year was one of the key factors influencing recent and current fire conditions in large parts of the country.

"2019 was consistently warm, but it was book-ended by periods of extreme heat," Dr Braganza said.

"January last year was the warmest month Australia has ever recorded, while just a few weeks ago in December, we saw the Australia-wide record hottest daily average maximum temperature broken multiple days in a row.

"At the same time, rainfall deficiencies across large parts of eastern Australia have continued to increase, unfortunately exacerbating both drought conditions and the current bushfires."

Dr Braganza said there were multiple factors influencing Australia's weather patterns in 2019.

"Most of this year, Australia's climate has been dominated by a very strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole, which acted to both warm and dry Australia's landscape, particularly from around the middle of the year.

"We also saw the influence of a rare Sudden Stratospheric Warming event high above the south pole, which acted to push our weather systems northward and compound the warmer and drier than average conditions over southern Queensland and New South Wales during spring, amplifying the fire weather.

"The other key factor at play is that Australia's climate has warmed by more than a degree since 1910, which means very warm years like 2019 are now more likely to occur."

In recent weeks, some of the key drivers of the warm and dry patterns over Australia have eased. As a result, rainfall for the coming months is expected to be average to below average in the east, while wetter than average conditions are possible in much of WA and SA. However, temperatures are likely to remain warmer than average over the rest of summer.

Asked at a media briefing if 2020 would also be hot and dry, Dr Braganza said there was nothing to indicate that things would cool down but rainfall may improve slightly.

"Optimistically I'd say less dry rather than wet," he said.

The three-month outlook January to March for Bellingen Shire indicates only a 32 per cent chance of receiving our usual median rainfall of 700mm.

There's a 64 per cent chance of receiving at least 500mm and an 81 per cent chance of at least 400mm.

"Unfortunately the outlook is not indicating a widespread return to wetter than average conditions over drought and fire affected parts of eastern Australia," Dr Braganza said. "But with the likely return of the monsoon by mid-January for northern Australia, it raises the chances that we could see some periods of higher rainfall move south in the coming months.

"It's important the community remains vigilant to the risk of more heat and fire days this summer, particularly given how dry the country has been over the past 12 months."

Fast Facts: Australia's climate in 2019

  • Australia's warmest year on record, with the annual national mean temperature 1.52 °C above average
  • Both mean annual maximum and minimum temperatures above average for all states and the Northern Territory
  • Annual national mean maximum temperature warmest on record (2.09 °C above average)
  • Widespread warmth throughout the year; January, February, March, April, July, October, and December all amongst the ten warmest on record for Australian mean temperature for their respective months
  • Significant heatwaves in January and in December
  • Australia's driest year on record
  • Nationally-averaged rainfall 40% below average for the year at 277.6 mm
  • Rainfall below average for most of Australia
  • Rainfall above average for parts of Queensland's northwest and northern tropics
  • Much of Australia affected by drought, which was especially severe in New South Wales and southern Queensland
  • Widespread severe fire weather throughout the year; national annual accumulated Forest Fire Danger Index highest since 1950, when national records began
  • One of the strongest positive Indian Ocean Dipole events on record; El Nino-Southern Oscillation neutral throughout the year