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The Clarence River near Copmanhurst, photographed in August 2019. Image: Emma Pritchard

2020: a year of drought, fire and flood

Emma Pritchard|


Rainfall across NSW was above average for most of the state in 2020, a stark contrast to the extreme dryness which parched most of the land in 2019 and crippled the livelihoods of many agricultural producers and rural communities.

NSW also recorded the warmest spring on record in over 100 years in 2020, with temperatures more than 2C above average.

After 2020 began with record-breaking heatwaves and devastating bush fires which burned close to 25 million hectares of land, destroyed over 3000 homes, killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion wild animals and claimed the lives of 33 people including six Australian firefighters and three American aerial firefighters, parts of NSW were also hit with higher-than-average rainfall brought by La Nina.

Months of above average rainfall in parts of the state resulted in an 80 per cent decrease in the number of NSW residents living in drought conditions from January to October.

A spokesperson from the Bureau of Meteorology said conditions across NSW continued to improve throughout 2020 and many farmers have since begun restocking.

The end of 2020 also saw the Clarence Valley endure the wettest December on record with more than 500mm of rain falling in Grafton during the month and the Clarence River exceeding the minor flood level of 2.1m.

It followed the third driest November since 1917 when less than 10mm of rain fell.

Grafton Research Station had its wettest year since 1959, recording more than 1600mm.

Towards the end of last year, the Bureau of Meteorology announced a La Nina event would see eastern NSW and other parts of the state record a wet summer.

La Nina is a complex weather pattern which occurs following differences in ocean temperatures in the equatorial band of the Pacific Ocean and typically results in increased rainfall, cooler daytime temperatures south of the tropics and greater tropical cyclone numbers.

The last significant La Nina event in 2010-2011, caused widespread flooding across many parts of Australia.

The Clarence River near Copmanhurst, photographed in August 2019. Image: Emma Pritchard
The Clarence River near Copmanhurst, photographed from the same location in January 2020. Image: Emma Pritchard