2016 was the globe’s warmest year

2016 was the globe’s warmest year on record—the third year running that a new record has been set. This was due to the continued influence of global warming and a strong El Niño. While Australia saw its fourth warmest year on record, 2016 will be remembered for a dry start followed by a switch to very wet conditions, as the influence on Australia’s climate shifted from the Pacific, to the Indian Ocean. The 2015–16 El Niño was one of the strongest on record, influencing how the year started in Australia. Northern Australia had its warmest wet season on record. There was below-average rainfall over large areas and a record-low number of tropical cyclones in the Australian region. Ocean temperatures around Australia were warmest on record in 2016. This resulted in severe coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef early in the year.

Warm and dry conditions contributed to bushfires: in Victoria near the Great Ocean Road—which burnt from Christmas into the new year; in southwest Western Australia—in early January; and in Tasmania’s northwest—in January and February. Tasmania also saw heavy rainfall and flash flooding in the north and east in late January. This rainfall, brought relief to some of the bushfires, but others continued to burn in to late February.

Autumn was the warmest on record for Australia, with a severe and prolonged heatwave extending across the north and east in March. In May the El Niño ended, and a negative Indian Ocean Dipole developed with waters warming to the northwest of Australia, becoming a major influence on Australia’s climate for the rest of the year. By July, the negative Indian Ocean Dipole had intensified to one of the strongest on record, and a weak La Niña-like pattern had developed in the Pacific Ocean. This combination of climate drivers saw a switch to much wetter conditions and widespread, drought-breaking rains over much of the country. It was the wettest May to September on record for Australia. Even northern Australia saw widespread rainfall, during what is usually the dry season, greening regions that had been in drought for several years.

The most notable event during this wet period was an East Coast Low in early June, which caused flooding down the east coast of Australia to Tasmania, and damaging coastal erosion in New South Wales. There were also a number of significant storm and wind events which affected the southeast. Winter rain and cloud kept daytime temperatures close to average, but the far north of the country remained exceptionally warm. In the Murray–Darling Basin, already wet soils and full rivers meant rain caused flooding in many areas during September and October.

However, the exceptionally wet conditions ended by mid-spring. The monsoon reached northern Australia during the second half of December and a tropical low brought widespread rainfall to the northwest, central Australia and the southeast. Temperatures were cooler than average for many in spring, while December saw a heat wave in the southeast. So looking back at Australia’s climate in 2016. It was a year of extreme weather events, wetter on average overall and our fourth warmest year on record.