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2014 was Australia's third-warmest year: BoM

Anna Vidot, Wednesday January 21, 2015 - 14:47 EDT
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Sunset at Loxton in the South Australian Riverland. The Bureau of Meteorology's climate statement found 2014 was the third warmest year on record, with frequent heatwaves and warm spells. - ABC
ABC image
A Bureau of Meteorology map showing 2014 annual mean temperatures, compared to historical temperature observations. - ABC
ABC image
A weather bureau map shows 2014 rainfall compared to historical rainfall observations. - ABC

Editor's note: This story has been changed to remove a reference to 2014 being Queensland's driest year since the Depression.

In updated information, the Bureau of Meteorology says the current drought in Queensland is comparable to 2002-03.

The Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed that 2014 was Australia's third-warmest year since national records began in 1910.

Australian maximum and minimum temperatures remained well above average for most of 2014. February was the only month that recorded below average temperatures.

That continued a pattern of warm weather seen throughout 2013, which was Australia's warmest year on record.

The bureau's full weather breakdown of 2014 has now been , and reveals Australia's area-averaged mean temperature last year was 0.91 degrees above the benchmark 1961-1990 average.

Maximum temperatures were 1.16 degrees above average, and minimum temperatures were 0.66 degrees above average.

The Bureau's climate monitoring manager, Dr Karl Braganza says the higher average maximum is particularly significant.

"A difference of one or two degrees doesn't sound like much, but it's actually the difference between one climate zone and the next across Australia," he said.

"So when we sustain those temperatures across a year, or even two years as we have done in the last 24 months, then that starts to become kind of significant."

While annual mean temperatures were near average for some northern parts of the continent, it was a very different story elsewhere.

The bureau reveals that annual mean temperatures were well above average for the southern states, for southern and western Queensland, and for most of Western Australia.

Nationally, six significant heatwaves were recorded through 2014; one, in southeast Australia in January, was the longest heatwave on record for that region.

Since 2002, Australia has recorded seven of its 10 warmest years on record.

In that time, only 2011 was cooler than average.

National rainfall figures mask worsening drought

Australia's mean rainfall last year was 13mm above average (478mm recorded in 2014), and the Bureau says that puts 2014 near the median of historical observations.

Far north Queensland, central and eastern parts of the Northern Territory, central and eastern WA, and parts of South Australia all recorded above average rainfall in 2014.

But those national figures obscure a worsening drought in many of Australia's major agricultural regions.

The majority of Victoria, all of Tasmania, southeast South Australia, WA's South West Land Division and coastal Gascoyne, and a large area of northeast New South Wales and southern Queensland, all recorded 'below average' to 'very much below average' rainfall in 2014.

Queensland sweltered during several heatwaves

In 2014, Queensland once again showed itself to be a state of extremes.

"We have had heat waves in January, May, October and November and we had the warmest night time temperatures on record for April," says Jeff Sabburg Climate Liaison Officer with the Bureau of Meteorology.

"We ended up with six tropical cyclones; Ita was the most intense storm, it made landfall on the 11th of April, as a Category 4 system, crossing near Cooktown.

"We saw flooding in northern, western and central Queensland between January and April and then of course we have had our below average rainfall in much of the state, except in the Gulf country and western Cape York Peninsula.

"Down in the south we had a particularly stormy spring, with a particularly damaging storm in late November.

"The driest overall location for 2014, was Rothbury Station near Birdsville, it recorded just 30.7 millimetres, now that is one extreme, while while in contrast Bellenden Ker, in Far North Queensland recorded 8016 mm, that is over eight metres.

"It just shows in Queensland we have this extreme differences in rainfall."

Jeff Sabburg says, unfortunately there is little sign of a break in the drought conditions.

"At this time, it is still not looking brilliant, going past the summer period, and there are signs we may see an El Nino form."

2014 could be the world's warmest

Warmer temperatures were recorded much further afield than Australia in 2014, and the Bureau of Meteorology says last year may turn out to be the world's warmest on record.

The World Meteorological Organisation is responsible for producing an estimated global mean temperature each year, based on data from agencies in the UK and USA.

The Bureau reports that preliminary data covering January to November puts the estimate for the world's mean temperature in 2014 at 0.57 degrees, or 0.10 degrees above the 1961-1990 average.

Since 1985, no year has recorded a below-average global mean temperature, and all of the world's 10 warmest years have occurred since 1998, the Bureau's report notes.

Records tumble in the Territory

Despite some extremes, the Bureau of Meteorology says the Northern Territory experienced an average year for rainfall in 2014.

In 2014, much of the Territory received rains that the Bureau has classified as 'very much above average', but climatologist Joel Lisonbee says the year revealed several highs and lows.

"New rainfall records were set early in the year but when you average that across the whole year, we had some very dry periods, we ended just a little bit above the average," he said.

Temperature records were also broken in 2014 in the Top End.

Tennant Creek airport reached 45.6 degrees in early January while Pirlangimpi airport on the Tiwi Islands recorded their hottest year on record.

Mr Lisonbee says some low temperatures also broke records, including at the remote community of Yuendumu, north-west of Alice Springs.

"When you look at their daily maximum temperatures across the whole year they average out to 8.1 degrees which is a new record low for them."

The difference between the tropics and the desert was readily apparent in the Bureau's 2014 figures for the Northern Territory.

The rainfall received at Alice Springs airport was 251 millimetres.

Darwin airport received 1.5 metres.


© ABC 2015

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