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Annual Climate Statement 2020: Australia’s fourth-warmest year on record, with below average rainfall for parts of Queensland and Western Australia

The Annual Climate Statement is the Bureau’s official summary of the previous year, providing information on temperature, rainfall and significant weather.

The year 2020 was the fourth-warmest year on record for Australia, with the nation’s area-averaged mean temperature for the year 1.15 °C above the 1961–1990 average.

Mean annual maximum and minimum temperatures were above average for all states and the Northern Territory.

While rainfall for 2020 was close to average overall, easing drought conditions in many areas, some regions received below average rainfall, including the west of Western Australia, southeastern Queensland, and western Tasmania.

In the Murray–Darling Basin, southern water storages saw significant increases during 2020 – rising from 36.8% in March 2020 to 68.8% at the end of November. In the northern Basin water storage levels also increased from a record low of 5.4% to around 25% at the end of December.

Senior Climatologist Dr Lynette Bettio, said that: “The mean temperature for the 10 years from 2011 to 2020 was the highest on record, at 0.94 °C above average, and 0.33 °C warmer than the previous 10 years.

“Rainfall for Australia was close to average for the nation as a whole at 483.4 mm: 4% above the 1961–1990 average of 466.0 mm.”

Annual rainfall was above average across large parts of New South Wales, parts of South Australia between the Flinders Ranges and Lake Eyre / Kati Thanda, much of northern and eastern Western Australia and much of the Northern Territory. Flooding impacted eastern Australia during February and March, particularly through Queensland and New South Wales.

Daytime temperatures were especially warm for Sydney, Hobart, and Darwin. The annual mean maximum temperature was above average for Perth, Canberra, and Brisbane; close to average at most sites across greater Adelaide; and close to average or slightly below average in Melbourne.

All of the capital cities, except Adelaide, observed warmer than average annual mean minimum temperatures. Nights were especially warm in Sydney, Darwin, Hobart, Canberra, and Brisbane.

Dr Bettio said: “Globally, every year from 2013 onwards has been among the ten warmest on record, with 2016 and 2019 being the hottest (0.85 ± 0.1 °C and 0.81 ± 0.1 °C above the 1961–1990 average respectively) and 2020 was among the top three, despite the onset of La Niña which has a suppressing effect on global temperatures.”

Australia had its warmest spring on record in 2020.

Fast facts

Climate summaries for each state and territory can be found at bom.gov.au/climate/current

NSW
• Rainfall was above average for most of the state.
• A succession of complex lows in winter and spring brought heavy rain, flooding and coastal erosion from the South Coast to Mid-North Coast and Northern Rivers regions.
• Temperatures were above average across most of NSW except for the southwest.
• February to April saw three consecutive months of below average mean maximum temperatures, the first such period for any months since 2012.
• It was very warm in spring, with the mean minimum temperature overall was the warmest since 1914.
• Sydney’s rainfall for 2020 as a whole was 28% above average. It was the wettest year for Observatory Hill since 1998.
• Sydney’s mean maximum and mean minimum temperatures were above average, but days were not as warm as 2019.
• Penrith Lakes reached 48.9 °C on 4 January, the highest temperature ever recorded in the Sydney Basin.
ACT
• Canberra’s rainfall for 2020 as a whole (790.0 mm) was 29% above average, the wettest year since 2010.
• Both mean maximum and mean minimum temperatures were above average.
• The Australian Capital Territory observed its highest temperature on record, reaching 44.0 °C at Canberra Airport on 4 January 2020.
VICTORIA
• Victoria’s total rainfall for the year was close to average overall.
• Rainfall was above average in some areas, mostly in central Victoria and the south, and close to average elsewhere.
• Victoria had its third wettest April on record, but most months during the year were drier than average.
• Victoria’s mean temperature was close to average in most months during the year, but November was the state’s second-warmest on record, while May was the coolest since 2006.
• Melbourne’s mean maximum and mean minimum temperatures were within 0.5 °C of the annual average at most sites across Greater Melbourne, while rainfall for the year was above average at all reporting sites across Greater Melbourne.
QUEENSLAND
• Rainfall was below average across much of southeastern and parts of east coast Queensland, and close to average elsewhere in 2020.
• Mean maximum temperatures were above average across Queensland, with small areas of the northern tropics the warmest on record.
• Mean minimum temperatures were above to very much above average across the state.
• Many catchments experienced flooding in early March from the remnants of tropical cyclone Esther.
• Brisbane’s rainfall was close to average in 2020.
• Brisbane’s mean maximum and mean minimum temperatures were slightly warmer than average.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA
• South Australia’s rainfall was close to average across large areas of the state in 2020, with several very dry months offset by a much wetter than average end to winter and start of spring.
• Both mean maximum and mean minimum temperatures were warmer than average across the west of the state and parts of the north; close to or cooler than average for much of the south and east.
• 2020 had several very warm months, including the state’s warmest November on record, but South Australia also had its coolest May since 2006.
• Rainfall was close to or above average at all sites across Adelaide and the Hills.
• Both daytime and night-time temperatures for 2020 were within 1 °C of average at most Adelaide sites.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA
• After a record-warm 2019, 2020 was the second-warmest year on record for Western Australia, with annual mean maximum temperatures very much above average across most of the state.
• Rainfall was below average in the west, and above average in the north and eastern regions due to tropical systems at the start and the end of the year.
• The South West Land Division had its seventh-driest April–October on record, and driest since 2012.
• Metropolitan Perth’s annual rainfall was about 600 mm (almost 10%) below average, with a record-wet November offset by the fourth-driest winter and third-driest October on record.
• Both mean maximum and minimum temperatures for 2020 were half a degree or more above average for Perth.
TASMANIA
• Tasmania’s total rainfall for 2020 was slightly below average overall, including parts of the western half of the state.
• Tasmania had its wettest autumn since 1975, with a very wet March in the northeast.
• July was the second-driest on record for the state, and winter was very dry in the northwest.
• Both mean maximum and mean minimum temperatures were warmer than usual in 2020, with minimums especially so in the northeast.
• Hobart’s annual rainfall was slightly above average (7%) but monthly rainfall was mixed.
NORTHERN TERRITORY
• 2020 was the fifth-warmest year on record for the Northern Territory.
• Annual rainfall for the Territory was above average, though most of the Top End had close to average rainfall, and the far southeast was drier than average.
• January, February, October, and December were the only months that saw above average rainfall.
• Dum In Mirrie (northwest Top End) had the highest daily rainfall ever recorded in the Territory with 562.0 mm on 11 January.
• Darwin Airport’s annual mean daily maximum temperature was 1.0 °C above average.
• Alice Springs Airport’s annual mean daily maximum temperature was well above average.

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