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BoM says 2019 – the hottest, driest year on record – led to extreme bushfire

The Bom’s Annual Climate Statement released yesterday confirms that 2019 was the nation’s warmest and driest year on record.

It’s the first time since overlapping records began that Australia experienced both its lowest rainfall and highest temperatures in the same year.

The national rainfall total was 37 mm, or 11.7 per cent, below the 314.5 mm recorded in the previous driest year in 1902. The national average temperature was nearly 0.2 °C above the previous warmest year in 2013.

Globally, 2019 is likely to be the second-warmest year, with global temperatures about 0.8 °C above the 1961–1990 average. It has been the warmest year without the influence of El Niño.

Across the year, Australia experienced many extreme events including flooding in Queensland and large hail in New South Wales. However, due to prolonged heat and drought, the year began and ended with fires burning across the Australian landscape.

The effect of the long dry

Bushfire activity for the 2018–19 season began in late November 2018, when fires burned along a 600 km stretch of the central Queensland coast. Widespread fires later followed across Victoria and Tasmania throughout the summer.

Persistent drought and record temperatures were a major driver of the fire activity, and the context for 2019 lies in the past three years of drought.

The dry conditions steadily worsened over 2019, resulting in Australia’s driest year on record, with area-average rainfall of just 277.6 mm (the 1961–1990 average is 465.2 mm).

Almost the entire continent experienced rainfall in the lowest 10th percentile over the year.

Record low rainfall affected the central and southern inland regions of the continent and the northeastern Murray–Darling Basin straddling the NSW and Queensland border. Many weather stations over central parts of Australia received less than 30 mm of rainfall for the year.

Every capital city recorded below-average annual rainfall. For the first time, national rainfall was below average in every month.

Record heat dominates the nation

2019 was Australia’s warmest year on record, with the annual mean temperature 1.52 °C above the 1961–1990 average, surpassing the previous record of 1.33 °C above average in 2013.

January, February, March, April, July, October, November, and December were all amongst the ten warmest on record for Australian mean temperature for their respective months, with January and December exceeding their previous records by 0.98 °C and 1.08°C respectively.

Maximum temperatures recorded an even larger departure from average of +2.09 °C for the year. This is the first time the nation has seen an anomaly of more than 2 °C, and about half a degree warmer than the previous record in 2013.

The year brought the nation’s six hottest days on record peaking at 41.9°C (18 December), the hottest week 40.5 °C (week ending 24 December), hottest month 38.6 °C (December 2019), and hottest season 36.9 °C (summer 2018–19).

The highest temperature for the year was 49.9 °C at Nullarbor (a new national December record) on 19 December and the coldest temperature was –12.0 °C at Perisher Valley on 20 June.

Keith West in southeast South Australia recorded a maximum 49.2 °C on 20 December, while Dover in far southern Tasmania saw 40.1 °C on 2 March, the furthest south such high temperatures have been observed in Australia.

Accumulating fire danger over 2019

The combination of prolonged record heat and drought led to record fire weather over large areas throughout the year, with destructive bushfires affecting all states, and multiple states at once in the final week of the year.

Many fires were difficult to contain in regions where drought has been severe, such as northern NSW and southeast Queensland, or where below average rainfall has been persistent, such as southeast Australia.

The Forest Fire Danger Index, a measure of fire weather severity, accumulated over the month of December was the highest on record for that month, and the highest for any month when averaged over the whole of Australia.

Record-high daily index values for December were recorded at the very end of December around Adelaide and the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, East Gippsland in Victoria and the Monaro in NSW. These regions which experienced significant fire activity.

Don’t forget the floods

Amidst the dry, 2019 also included significant flooding across Queensland and the eastern Top End.

Heavy rain fell from January into early February, with damaging floods around Townsville and parts of the western Peninsula and Gulf Country.

Tropical cyclone Trevor brought further heavy rainfall in April in the eastern Northern Territory and Queensland. Floodwaters eventually reached Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre which, amidst severe local rainfall deficiencies in South Australia, experienced its most significant filling since 2010–11.

There was a notable absence of rainfall on Australia’s snow fields during winter and spring which meant less snow melt. Snow cover was generous, particularly at higher elevations.

What role did climate change play in 2019?

The climate each year reflects random variations in weather, slowly evolving natural climate drivers such as El Niño, and long-term trends through the influence of climate change.

A strong and long-lived positive Indian Ocean Dipole—another natural climate driver—affected Australia from May until the end of the year, and played a major role in suppressing rainfall and raising temperatures for much of the year.

Spring brought an unusual breakdown of the southern polar vortex which allowed westerly winds to affect mainland Australia. This reduced rainfall, raising temperature and contributing to the increased fire risk.

Climate change continues to cause long-term changes to Australia’s climate. Conditions in 2019 were consistent with trends of declining rainfall in parts of the south, worsening fire seasons and rising temperatures.

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11 responses to “BoM says 2019 – the hottest, driest year on record – led to extreme bushfire”

  1. Len Heggarty says:

    The figures back up and reinforce the fact that Rainforest is burning. Rainforest does not burn easily because it i so dense. slow growing and there is so much water in it. But now in the Australian bush, the heat is so fierce that Rainforest burns. That has not happened in the history of white man in Australia.
    If anyone does not believe that “Climate Change is the greatest challenge of our time” and those words were said by Prime minister Kevin Rudd back in 2010, then they need a brain change. The Australian political will is not there to take the challenge to do something about Climate Change. That is the frighteninbg thing.

    • Joachim Staats says:

      Kevin Rudd’s statement was not anything new. The UN set up The IPCC in the 1980’s for the very reason that climate change was recognised as an issue that was going to have significant impacts and would need a global effort. Yet here we are in Australia 2020 where the Science is still being argued within The COALition Government that is also wedded to continuing and expanding the Fossil Fuel Industry.

  2. Marie says:

    The right wing climate deniers won’t have to worry about climate change, but their grandchildren will have a lot to worry about. The way things are going, it’ll be too hot to survive on this continent! There are politicians who worry about this scenario! And it’s about time they used what influence they have, to debunk the false myth that the weather is cyclical & normal!
    Wouldn’t be great to have politicians who want the best for the ordinary citizens & do the right thing? And are not controlled by the almighty dollar! I live in hope?

    • Joachim Staats says:

      The Deniers may not worry about The Climate Emergency but they getting a bit of a taste of affairs before they drop off the perch. Let them keep voting for a COALition government that is corrupted by political donations from Big Fossil Fuel. Let the children and grand children ask the question why the vote for ‘Tax Rebates’ over a planet that is hospitable for animal and human habitation as we once knew it.

      • Barrow says:

        Let them keep voting !! Captain Planet Joachim
        Thats the “majority” the Quite ones ..not the noisy
        Lefty protesting alarmist.. the UN setup the ipcc
        That explains it all .. the UN are penniless
        Fiscally inept!! They are no more than a “traveling cocktail party ” spreading propaganda to extract
        Money from any country that are stupid enough
        To give them any … as for the IPCC may as well
        Be run by the guardian, or the ABC .. any pushback
        On this global warming hysteria is 100%
        Squashed , shutdown!! “Expect anything less ”
        NO .. interesting that you and the noisy activists
        Suggest that 99 percent of scientists are in
        Agreement that the world is in a Emergency phase
        “Absolute rubbish” , there are thousands of
        Reputable scientists all over the world who infact
        Are saying that there is no climate emergency
        However you wont hear that on the ABC , or the
        Guardian.. or the UN .and IPCC ..hoax ..

        • Matthew says:

          Hey barrow. Voting doesn’t change science, or facts, or put out bushfires. Voting only demonstrates how stupid and self-centred the majority is. And what does the UN have to do with BOM announcing the hottest, driest year ever?
          Since you mentioned emergency, if you don’t understand what it means just consult a dictionary – it’s not difficult. Better still, maybe you should write a letter to the editor and get it all off your chest, see if you get published promoting your views under your real name instead of hiding behind an anonymous pseudonym and posting randomly under every story and every comment.

  3. BC says:

    The loss of moisture thru deforestation is a bigger threat than global warming. Rivers in the sky from transpiration moves more water than all the world’s rivers combined. We need to manage the world’s water…plant more trees and recognize that rivers on the ground depend on rivers in the sky.

  4. Anton says:

    Bureau of Mythology , are they again fiddling the figures as the country burns?

    • Chris Day says:

      Well they also admit that since changing there recording method and solely relying on computer modelling,temperature readings have risen by 3-4 degrees. All at the flick of a switch. The Minister for the Environment had been briefed but has refused to take any action. Join the CCC (Climate Change Cult).

  5. So barrow, Anton, Chris Day did any of you actually click the link in the first sentence of the article to look at the latest climate statement? And if so, did you understand any of it? As you certainly don’t appear to have accepted any of it. Without any basis other than the paranoid conspiracy that the BOM is lying and making the figures up? I suppose the same goes for the RFS and all the networks reporting the bushfires and the NFF and all the farmers reporting the impacts of drought and heat? You must realise how ridiculous that sounds?

    The BOM’s 2019 Annual Climate Statement that you haven’t read also has the interesting fact in there that this year in NSW, the average maximum temperatures broke records by +2.44°C, not just a little bit – it smashed it! I certainly felt it, and if any of you glorious keyboard scientists had ventured outside last year you may have noticed it too.

    Although I seen the same claims in the pages multiple times – particularly from Anton – there is yet to be any explanation why they would do such a thing? or what could possibly be gained? or where the “actual or correct” figures might be found? I must add, Chris Day’s argument is a new one – generally deniers have claimed that the BOM’s falsification of records resulted in the instant deletion of the previously higher historical temperature data, not the instant raising of current data.

    Soon other sources from other countries will also be published, no doubt mirroring the BOM’s data & conclusions. Please be ready to explain how and why they are all colluding. And where I can find the real figures.

  6. When talking about anthropogenic climate change, people regularly point to recently broken records such as maximum temperatures; the hottest ever year or decade; the number or proportion of Category 5 cyclones etc.
    My eyes were recently opened to another aspect that demonstrates the rapid global impact of our recently altered climate: What is it that doesn’t happen anymore?
    Look at global changes – not just Australia: Because of our new changed climate – brought to you by anthropogenic gases – we NEVER have years where the average global temperature is as cool as it used to be. The coldest year since 2014 was hotter than the hottest year before 2014.
    The coldest year since 2000 was hotter than the hottest year before 1998.
    The coldest year since 1994 was hotter than the hottest year before 1983.
    The coldest year from 1977 was hotter than the hottest year before 1940. Seeing a trend barrow, Anton, etc?
    Not only are extreme events occasionally occurring, but weather patterns have never then returned to “normal”.

    Try to wrap your head around that! The world NEVER cools down to what it used to be when we were kids, & when our parents & grandparents were kids. According to climate scientists, it won’t return to the “normal” pattern for a few thousand years, even if we were stop pumping carbon & greenhouse gases into the atmosphere immediately! All we can do is slow the rate to reduce the worst of the impacts, whilst we & all other life, adapt. Plants particularly, but also animals, cannot adapt that quickly. Yes the climate has always changed & is always changing, but on geological time scales – never has it changed this fast! Just as with every different previous climatic period over geological time, scientists have been able to explain how & why it has changed, & the forces driving that change.

    I find it bewildering that people such as ‘barrow’ & ‘Anton’ can cling to a miniscule shred of scientific data from years or decades ago, that they then misrepresent to try to proclaim a scientific hoax & disprove a continuation of the same scientific data. Or in this case, since it can’t be disproved – BOM are a pack of liars who have invented the climate data. WTF? That is a sad situation of paranoid distrust … soon you will be publicly condemning as lies everything from ingredients on food packaging & the alcohol content of liquor, to the colour of the sky & won’t be able to hold a conversation – even with your fellow deniers, for constant distrust of everything not personally experienced. Question by all means – preferably quietly & in private, rather the tiresome constant triumphant parading of your new clothes stolen from the emperor…..

    Consider the fact that things are never what they used to be, as even more conclusive proof of climate change, than the fact that we are now seeing things we have never seen before. Happy to help.

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