2019 annual mean temperatures compared to historical temperature observations.
2019 annual mean temperatures compared to historical temperature observations.

WEATHER WRAP: 2019 hottest, driest year on record

WITH the prolonged hot and dry conditions, many towns across the Northern Rivers smashed weather records in 2019.

It was both the warmest and driest year on record for Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology has released its Annual Climate Statement 2019, showing Australia’s mean temperature in 2019 was 1.52 degrees above average, making it the warmest on record since consistent national temperature records began in 1910, and surpassing the previous record of 1.33 degrees above average set in 2013.

2019 was also the driest year in the 119 years since 1900, when consistent national records began.

The national average rainfall total in 2019 was 277mm, and the previous record low was 314mm, set during the Federation drought in 1902.

Byron Bay had the warmest nights on average for NSW (at 17.5 degrees), Mullumbimby (Fairview Farm) recorded the lowest annual total rainfall for more than a century, and several towns including Ballina, Tenterfield, Woodenbong, Urbenville, Bonalbo, Rosebank, The Channon, Whiporie, Clunes, Tabulam, Murwillumbah, and Kingscliff broke previous records for the lowest annual total rainfall on record.

2019 annual rainfall compared to historical rainfall observations.
2019 annual rainfall compared to historical rainfall observations.

Bureau of Meteorology head of climate monitoring Dr Karl Braganza said the record warm and dry year was one of the key factors influencing recent and current fire conditions in large parts of the country.

He said 2019 was “consistently warm“ and “book-ended by periods of extreme heat”.

“January last year was the warmest month Australia has ever recorded, while just a few weeks ago in December, we saw the Australia-wide record hottest daily average maximum temperature broken multiple days in a row,” Dr Braganza said.

“At the same time, rainfall deficiencies across large parts of eastern Australia have continued to increase, unfortunately exacerbating both drought conditions and the current bushfires.”

Dr Braganza said there were multiple factors influencing Australia’s weather patterns in 2019.

“Most of this year, Australia’s climate has been dominated by a very strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole, which acted to both warm and dry Australia’s landscape, particularly from around the middle of the year,” he said.

“We also saw the influence of a rare Sudden Stratospheric Warming event high above the south pole, which acted to push our weather systems northward and compound the warmer and drier than average conditions over southern Queensland and New South Wales during spring, amplifying the fire weather.

“The other key factor at play is that Australia’s climate has warmed by more than a degree since 1910, which means very warm years like 2019 are now more likely to occur, while the trend in recent decades has been for drier winter and spring seasons in the south.”

2019 climate national highlights.
2019 climate national highlights.

Looking ahead, rainfall for the coming months is expected to be average to below average in the east, and temperatures are likely to remain warmer than average over the rest of summer.

“Unfortunately, the outlook is not indicating a widespread return to wetter than average conditions over drought and fire affected parts of eastern Australia,” Dr Braganza said.

“But with the likely return of the monsoon by mid-January for northern Australia, it raises the chance that we could see some periods of higher rainfall move south in the coming months.”

NSW weather in 2019

Warmest and driest year for NSW as a whole

Mean temperature 1.95 degrees above average

Total rainfall for NSW was the lowest on record, at 55 per cent below average

The northeast quarter and the far west of the state were especially dry, with numerous locations having their driest year on record and many of those more than 40 per cent below the previous driest year; some locations had less than a quarter of their average annual rainfall

The five warmest years on record for NSW are now 2019, 2018, 2014, 2017 and 2009

Days were especially warm in 2019, with the state mean maximum temperature record high at 2.44 degrees above average.