Australia experiences hottest year on record

By Signe Cane 7 January 2014
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With extreme heatwaves and extensive bushfires, 2013 was the warmest year in Australia since records began.

THE AUSTRALIAN BUREAU OF Meteorology (BoM) has just released its annual climate statement, which calls 2013 the hottest year ever recorded in Australia.

Experts say this is a serious concern for all Australians as the changing climate continues to increase the incidence of bushfires, floods and other extremes.

Last year’s national mean temperature was 1.2°C above average, with no temperatures falling in the below-average scale. In addition, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory all broke their previous annual average temperature records.

Increase in heatwave danger

Professor Roger Jones, a climate scientist at Victoria University in Melbourne, points out that while the average temperature increases may seem benign, heatwaves are increasing rapidly.

“Why heatwaves are longer and hotter than anticipated is not yet clear, but they are contributing to greater fire danger and heat stress than projected by climate impact studies, affecting animals, plants and humans,” says Roger.

See also: Australia’s heatwave a taste of things to come

Experts say last year’s temperature record is remarkable because it happened at a time when Australia should have been experiencing average weather.

“All these records have been broken while we’ve been in ‘neutral’ phases of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon, when we expect average conditions,” says Dr Sarah Perkins, a climate researcher at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Usually, Sarah says, Australia only experiences higher temperatures during El Niño – when the sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean rise significantly.

Climate change warming Australia?

In 2013 Australian weather broke many records. January became the hottest recorded month, with Hobart experiencing its hottest day in 120 years with temperatures up to 41.8°C. Meanwhile, Birdsville in Queensland had 31 days in a row with average temperatures above 40°C.

Even though weather extremes cannot always be attributed to climate change, experts say it has to be considered. “While records are occasionally broken here and there, the amount of temperature records broken in the last year is extraordinary,” explains Sarah. “Studies have already shown that the risk of summers like 2013 occurring have increased by up to five-fold, because of human induced climate change.”

As reported in the BoM statement, our regional warming reflects warming on a global scale, and over the past 10 years a long-term warming has been a continuing trend.

Roger Jones believes climate change is definitely a factor. “The burden of extremes Australia is experiencing is a product of climate change and requires a coordinated national response,” he says.