A koala drinks water from a bottle given by a firefighter in Cudlee Creek, South Australia, December 22, 2019. The year had the grim distinction of being both our hottest and driest year on record. Picture: Oakbank Balhannah CFS via AP
A koala drinks water from a bottle given by a firefighter in Cudlee Creek, South Australia, December 22, 2019. The year had the grim distinction of being both our hottest and driest year on record. Picture: Oakbank Balhannah CFS via AP

2019 our hottest and driest year ever

Australia experienced both its hottest and driest year in 2019 - "achieving" the disturbing double record for the first time ever.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Annual Climate Statement, released today, shows Australia's average temperature in 2019 was 1.52°C above the norm, and its national average rainfall total was 277mm, the lowest on record.

The Bureau's Head of Climate Monitoring Dr Karl Braganza said that while the average daily temperature figure "emphatically" broke the existing record, an "even larger departure" from the norm could be seen in Australia's daytime maximum temperature for the year, which was 2 degrees hotter than usual.

The highest temperature recorded in Australia in 2019 was a scorching 49.9 degrees at Nullarbor on December 18.

 

Bureau of Meteorology's Head of Climate Monitoring Dr Karl Braganza.
Bureau of Meteorology's Head of Climate Monitoring Dr Karl Braganza.

 

"We saw six of the hottest days on record … and 11 days when the national daily temperature went over 40 degrees," Dr Braganza said, adding that the figures were "really quite stark".

The Bureau's figures are based on reports from 700 weather stations scattered across the country which send in data at least twice per day. Daily temperature records go back to 1910 and rainfall records to 1900.

Australia's average temperature had increased 1.4 degrees since 1910, Dr Braganza said.

In terms of rainfall, most of the continent experienced drier conditions, and "very few pockets received higher than average rainfall," he said.

The national average rainfall figure of 277mm was dramatically lower than the previous record, which was set in 1902, when 314mm of rain fell.

 

Maximum temperature deciles for Australia, January 1-December 31, 2019. Source: Bureau of Meteorology
Maximum temperature deciles for Australia, January 1-December 31, 2019. Source: Bureau of Meteorology

 

The climate factors set the conditions for the country's devastating bushfire season, which has grown by months in many locations.

"Both last summer and this summer we were warning authorities very early in the year about fire season," Dr Braganza said. "There were quite early indications … of severe bushfire weather."

Australia's increasing temperatures are part of a global trend, with 2019 "likely to come in as the second warmest year on record," Dr Braganza said, adding that it was the warmest non-El Nino year ever.

And the forecast? More of the same, basically.

"It's difficult to look too far ahead, but there's nothing really indicating that things will cool down too much over the next few months," Dr Braganza said.

"We are seeing indications of some rainfall starting to come in with the northern monsoon.

But really, it's been very hot and dry already … and we have a deal of summer to go."