Environment

Australia had its hottest and driest year on record in 2019

Australia had its hottest and ...
Australia had its hottest year on record in 2019, resulting in catastrophic bushfires
Australia had its hottest year on record in 2019, resulting in catastrophic bushfires
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A map of the mean temperature across Australia for 2019
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A map of the mean temperature across Australia for 2019
A map of the mean rainfall across Australia in 2019
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A map of the mean rainfall across Australia in 2019
Australia had its hottest year on record in 2019, resulting in catastrophic bushfires
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Australia had its hottest year on record in 2019, resulting in catastrophic bushfires

Australia is currently suffering through some of the worst bushfires on record, and it’s not hard to see why. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has released its annual climate statement for 2019, and found that last year was both the hottest and driest on record for the continent.

The BOM has been collecting data on Australia’s climate for well over a century, including national temperatures since 1910 and rainfall figures since 1900. Using this information, the organization reported that 2019 was far and away the warmest year on record, while rainfall was at a record low.

The report shows that the area-averaged mean temperature for 2019 was 1.52° C above average (that average being taken between 1961 and 1990). That beats out the previous record holder of 2013, which was 1.33° C above average. The mean of the maximum temperatures were also the warmest on record at 2.09° C above average, while mean minimums were also above average.

A map of the mean temperature across Australia for 2019
A map of the mean temperature across Australia for 2019

It was a “good” year for individual temperature records too. January 2019 was the hottest month on record for Australia, while December 18 was the hottest individual day, with the maximum average for the entire country hitting a sweltering 41.9° C (107.4° F).

When stretched out to the full decade, the years 2010 to 2019 were also the highest on record at 0.86° C above average. In fact, every year since 2013 has made it into the top 10 in the record books.

Those record highs were accompanied by record-low rainfall, as much of Australia continues to be gripped in severe drought. In 2019, only 277.6 mm of rain fell on the country. That’s far below the previous lowest of 314.5 mm, recorded in 1902. Averaged over the whole country, that’s 40 percent less rain than the 1961 to 1990 average.

A map of the mean rainfall across Australia in 2019
A map of the mean rainfall across Australia in 2019

Important to note is that there was no El Nino pattern in effect in 2019, which is known to contribute to lower rainfall. However its western equivalent, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), was very strong, which also reduces rainfall across the continent.

This record-breaking year culminated in the devastating fires that are still raging across much of the country. By the end of December, more than 12 million acres had been burnt, destroying over 1,600 homes and taking the lives of at least 18 people. Smoke has blanketed Sydney for weeks, periodically affecting other cities such as Melbourne and even reaching as far as New Zealand, over 2,000 km (1,200 mi) away.

The report echoes others from organizations like NOAA, which predict that globally, 2019 will likely be the second-hottest year on record after 2016.

The BOM annual climate statement 2019 can be viewed online, and it’s summed up in the video below.

Annual Climate Statement 2019

Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology

13 comments
RobertCardiff
Why is no one reporting on the arsonists that are settling many of these fires?
Douglas Rogers
What has happened to the heat load, as opposed to temperature over this time?
Worzel
100 years...... out of 4.5 billion? Probably not really significant, statistically. However, it amazes me how many houses are built in known brush fire locations, of highly inflammable materials, no fire fighting equipment, and no firebreak between the houses and surrounding trees. It's almost like they are inviting a fire to burn their house down! In that situation, it would be wise to first build a basement size tank, for water, and then build the house on top of it. Install a generator, and pumps, together with a sprinkler system to protect the roof, so that they can fight any fire that comes close to the firebreak, even if the grid power and water supply fails. Last, keep a goat, to keep the undergrowth under control. It may seem expensive, but compared to losing the whole house, and its contents, not really. In the 'Paradise' fire, in California, one house that survived, was built of fire resistant materials, ie, 'cinderblock,' and a concrete tile roof. The man also had sufficient water to keep things cool. Simple?
piperTom
In 2009, Australia had almost as bad a year for fire. Afterward, the government set a goal to create backfires in 5% of the land, each year to create fire breaks to control the spread of wild fires. They never once came close to that goal. Remember this the next time you are tempted to Trust Your Government to fix something.
holdenmidfield
Classic head in the sand or up a bodily orifice syndrome. Ignore the information in the article and make it all about the consequences of the issue instead of the cause. Geez, apparently thoughtful inquiry is a thing of the past. Expected more from down under.
aksdad
We already know that 2019 was not the second-hottest year "on record." That distinction belongs to 1998. 2019 wasn't even close. It's either the 3rd or 4th hottest in the satellite record, which is arguably more reliable than the longer weather station record which is heavily biased by the majority of weather station locations in urban areas influenced by the urban heat island effect. If you extend the record all the way back to the Medieval Warm Period (AD 950 to 1250) or Roman Warm Period (250 BC to AD 400) all bets are off. We don't have measurements from those periods but proxy records indicate that it was pretty warm, comparable to today. See graph of satellite data at https://www.nsstc.uah.edu/climate/
christopher
Brilliant distraction from the underlying problem. And no, the problem is not "lack of climate action" - the problem is that there is no possible action that humanity could conceivably take that is going to make any difference to climate direction. The scale is just TOO VAST. 1961 was not 100 years ago - and cherrypicking timeperiods to make alarmist statements is evil - as is "re-calibrating" past records and "data cleansing", both of which the BOM does, and both of which aide alarmism. El Nino should have been mentioned earlier too.
christopher
FYI - lightening started most of the fires.
El Nacho
Bushfires have been part of Australia for ~60 million years. That means there have been bushfires raging down here even during the last Ice Age. Many Australian native plants are pyrophytic and require fires for their seeds to germinate and have evolved to contain highly flammable oils and extremely dry barks (eg eucalypts) to provide fuel for fires. Early European explorers and settlers commented on the Aboriginal people’s familiarity with fire, and the presence of fire in the landscape continually throughout the year. This constant use of fire by Aboriginal people as they went about their daily lives most likely resulted in less dry fuels available for large intense bushfires. Former CSIRO bushfire scientist David Packham has been warning for years that forest fuel levels had climbed to their most dangerous level in thousands of years. There have also been around 180+ people questioned for suspected arson this fire season. So far only around 24 have been charged.
fen
There is a time for climate change politics, but I think now people need to see that this is a fire control problem. Hopefully they take it more serious than last time, and set more control fires and cut back bush more.