Photo credit: Tim J Keegan

Australia experienced its fourth warmest year on record according to the 2016 ‘State of the Climate’ Report published by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology on Thursday.

In a sign of continued warming in the region, sea-surface temperatures around Australia were the warmest on record, measured at 0.73 °C above average. This record extended to global sea-surface temperatures, which experienced the highest ever temperature anomaly of 0.57°C above the long-term average.

Warm years were recorded across the whole of Australia, with Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory all recording annual tempertures that ranked within the hottest ten years for those States and territories.

Of the ten warmest years on record for Australia, seven have occurred since 2005.

Reproduced with the permission of the Bureau of Meteorology

The Bureau of Meteorology noted that both average temperatures and rainfall in Australia during 2016 were influenced by wide-reaching climate phenomena.

While continued global warming trends lead to new records, during 2016, the Australian climate was also influenced by an El Nino event that carried into and then dissipated during 2016. Is it estimated that the 2015/16 El Nino event will rank as one of the three strongest El Nino events on record.

El Nino events generally contribute to warmer temperatures, and while it is often a predictor for lower rainfall, Australia recorded annual rainfall 17 per cent above average for 2016. The Australia also experienced a negative Indian Ocean Dipole event that developed during the winter months, which leads to cooler ocean temperatures to the Northwest of Australia and contributed to the higher rainfalls.

Assistant Director Climate Information Services at the Bureau of Meteorology, Neil Plummer cited climate drivers as also contributing to the severity of extreme weather events that occurred in 2016.

Reproduced with the permission of the Bureau of Meteorology

“The year started off very warm and dry, with bushfires in Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia, and a nation-wide heatwave from late February to mid-March. We had our warmest autumn on record partly due to a very strong 2015–16 El Niño,” Mr Plummer said.

“In May the El Niño broke down and the dry start was followed by record wet from May to September as a negative Indian Ocean Dipole developed, with ocean waters warming to the northwest of Australia.”

“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,” he said.

In its statement, the Bureau of Meteorology cited the occurrence of a multitude of extreme weather events during 2016 in describing the year as an eventful one.

Events included:

  • Extended drought and bushfires in Northwest Tasmania, that contributed to lower dam levels and a shortage of water supplies for hydroelectricity generation, forcing the state to import diesel generators.
  • Multiple flooding events throughout New South Wales and Victoria
  • Supercell storms that impacted on Southeast Australia and Queensland, creating golf-ball sized hail.
  • Tornados and associated severe thunderstorms across South Australia, causing widespread damage and a temporary loss of electricity supply to the entire state.
  • Intense rainfall and flooding through central Australia, requiring the evacuation of communities surrounding Uluru.

Looking globally, preliminary data released by the Bureau of Meteorology indicated that 2016 is likely to have been the warmest year on record for the world overall. The World Meteorological Organisation reiterated this estimate, and is likely to confirm that 2016 set a new temperature record in early 2017.

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