Australia Had Extreme Weather and Fourth-Hottest Year in 2016

The Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement shows this year was fourth-warmest on record for Australia.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), last year Australia had a wild ride in terms of weather. The latest annual climate statement has been released today, and it shows above-average temperatures, crazy flooding, and dramatic fires.

2016 has been confirmed as the fourth-hottest year in Australia since records began, with a national mean temperature 0.87°C above average. According to the report, both maximum temperatures and mean minimum temperatures were “very much above average,” placing them in the highest 10% of historical observations.

“The combination of El Niño and ongoing climate change led to record warm temperatures globally during 2016, as they did in 2015,” says the report.

As World Meteorological Organisation data has already called it, saying 2016 will be the hottest year on record globally, Australian climate is basically consistent with global trends. The warmest year on record for Australia was just in 2013, followed by 2005 and 2014. For Sydney 2016 actually broke the heat record, clocking in as hottest ever recorded.

And it turns out things have been heating up even more in the waters surrounding the continent. “Sea surface temperatures have warmed substantially around Australia, and have been persistently high in recent years,” says the report.

In fact, last year was the warmest on record for ocean temperatures in the Australian region, as the mean sea surface temperature went 0.73°C above average. That’s not surprising, given that global sea surface temperatures were also the highest on record, according to data from NOAA. (See also "Corals are dying on the Great Barrier Reef".)

2016 sea surface temperatures compared to historical records.
ILLUSTRATION BY BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY

Apart from temperatures, Australia also experienced some extreme weather events last year, both during the dry and the wet periods. The dry months saw some truly devastating bushfires, especially in Tasmanian remote areas during January and February, where the total damage ranged across more than 123 thousand hectares.

When it didn’t burn, it certainly poured.

“Widespread, drought-breaking rains led to flooding in multiple states. Even northern Australia saw widespread rainfall, during what is usually the dry season, greening regions that had been in drought for several years,” says Neil Plummer, assistant director of climate information services at BoM.

In 2016 annual rainfall was 17 per cent above average, and significant flooding happened in many parts of the country at different times of the year. Notably, Queensland had the second-wettest winter on record and was affected by supercell thunderstorms. In November parts of Victoria even experienced 'thunderstorm asthma', caused by a confluence of storms, gusty winds, and extreme pollen counts.

You can explore the statement in more detail on the BoM website.

Header image: Simpson desert from the International Space Station in 2015, photo taken by Scott Kelly during his year in space.
IMAGE COURTESY NASA.

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