It was a year of extreme weather events, wetter than average overall, and the fourth-warmest on record for Australia, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Annual Climate Statement 2016 released recently.
Assistant Director Climate Information Services, Neil Plummer, said 2016 was an eventful year with significant climate drivers affecting the country’s weather.
“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.
For Australia as a whole, annual rainfall was 17 per cent above average.
Notable events during the wet period included an East Coast Low in June, causing flooding down the east coast of Australia to Tasmania, and damaging coastal erosion in New South Wales. There were also significant storm and wind events which affected the southeast.
In the Murray–Darling Basin, already wet soils and full rivers meant rain caused flooding in many areas throughout September and October.
Australia was warmer than average in 2016, with a national mean temperature 0.87 °C above average, and it was the fourth-warmest year on record.
Sea surface temperatures around Australia were the warmest on record in 2016, and were 0.77°C above average.
The World Meteorological Organization figures have announced that 2016 is very likely to have been the warmest year on record for global mean temperatures.
The Annual Climate Statement is available on the Bureau’s website.
Major weather events in 2016
- Very large fires in northwest Tasmania during January and February following an extended dry period; about 123 800 ha burnt, mostly in remote areas
- Significant flooding in Tasmania in January
- Significant fires at the start of the year near Wye River on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, and in southwest Western Australia affecting Yarloop and Waroona
- An East Coast Low caused major coastal flooding and erosion in New South Wales in early June, with flooding also affecting Victoria and large areas of Tasmania
- Flooding occurred from June to September in western, central and southern Queensland following the State’s second-wettest winter on record
- Periods of flooding in inland New South Wales and northern and western Victoria during September and October
- Supercell thunderstorms caused extensive damage across southeast Australia and parts of southeast Queensland during early November, with widespread reports of golf-ball sized hail
- Severe thunderstorms and a tornado outbreak caused widespread damage in South Australia during late September
- On 21 November, lightning storms associated with a strong and gusty change ignited grassfires across northern Victoria, caused damage across parts of Victoria, and along with a high pollen count, triggered thousands of incidents of thunderstorm asthma.
- A tropical low at the end of the year brought exceptional December rainfall to a number of regions between the northwest of Australia and the southeast, with some flooding and flash flooding resulting in the Kimberley, around Uluru in Central Australia, and around Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart.
The Bureau of Meteorology has also issued a Special Climate Statement on the tropical conditions affecting a wide area of Australia in late December 2016.
Key points from the statement include:
- More than 200mm rainfall between 20–31 December across most of the Kimberley region and Northern Territory, with more than 400 mm in northern Kimberley and western Top End
- Significant daily rainfall totals:
- 231.6 mm at Wulungurru, near Northern Territory–Western Australia border on 26 December
- 225.6 mm at Broome on 23 December
- 100+ mm at several sites in southwestern Northern Territory, Adelaide Hills and Victorian Alps
- Well above average temperatures, particularly overnight temperatures in southern South Australia, most of Victoria and Tasmania, and southern New South Wales
- Exceptionally high humidity, with some areas in South Australia and Victoria experiencing levels that would be considered high even in tropical locations.