Australia ended 2021 in an unusual climatic state, with no region in this famously broad, mostly brown country, officially in drought for the first time since 2017.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s latest drought report, released Friday, said the country’s record rainfall in November helped clear up the remaining areas with short to medium-term precipitation deficits.
A little drier than average December – including Tasmania’s driest December since 1994 – hasn’t derailed the country’s generally wetter trajectory of late.
“It’s the first time in five years, since the beginning of 2017, that we don’t have any part of Australia in what we call a meteorological drought,” said Simon Grainger, senior climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology.
Such a measure assesses the extent and severity of drought by comparing rainfall to typical levels for a region, and is closely monitored by farmers and firefighters, among others.
Climate change is changing the likelihood of rain, with South Australia tending to dry out, especially in winter, while Northern Australia is getting wetter.
Last year was marked by storms and flooding, ending as Australia’s coolest year since 2012, but still unusually warm for a La Niña year. It was also the wettest year since 2016.
Among state capitals, Perth was a standout with rainfall of 22% above the 1990s average. The 892mm recorded in Western Australia’s capital made it the wettest year since 1994, Grainger said.
WA stood out for its scorching December heat, with the state having its third-warmest December on record for maximum and average temperatures, the agency said:. Marble Bar – the town in Pilbara that looks more like a frying pan – was choking on 29 consecutive days of at least 42°C, beating a previous record of 25 such blistering days in 1986.
Mardie, also in WA’s northwest, recorded Australia’s highest temperature in 2021, with the mercury reaching a warm 47.9C on December 20.
However, the experience for most Australians has been a fairly cool year.
“It was relatively cool in the southeastern capitals, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra,” Grainger said.
Melbourne days averaged 19.8C in 2021, the coolest since 1996. Nights in the Victorian capital averaged 11.2C, the coolest since 2006. The city’s 682.6mm rainfall was 5% above the long-term average .
Sydney, which is typically wetter than Melbourne, registered 1,290.2mm of rain in 2021 – 6% above the norm.
Sydney’s mean maximum of 23.1C was 1.3C above the average for all years in records dating back to 1858. The minima were 0.3% above the norm at 14.1C.
Canberra’s average high of 19.6°C gave the national capital its coolest year since 1996, or 0.3°C below the long-term standard. The 6.2C lows were the strongest since 2012, as well as 0.3C below average. Rainfall of 912.6mm was the most since 2010, or 46% above average.
Adelaide was another capital on the cool side, with an average high of 22.0C – the coolest since 1997 – and 0.6C below the norm. Minimum temperatures were 10C cooler, with an average of 12C, the coldest year since 2002. Rainfall was near average at 506.4mm.
Also Brisbane, with days averaging 26.4C, was 0.3C cooler than in the 1990s, although nights were slightly above average at 16.6C. Annual rainfall was 39% above average, at 1,407mm, even if the city’s main Wivenhoe dam missed it, ending the year less than half full.
Hobart maintained its record as Australia’s second driest capital city, with 664.2mm of rain which is about 9% higher than the long-term average. Year-round highs of 17.7C were close to the average since 1991, as were lows of 9.2C.
In the Top End, Darwin’s days averaged 33°C in 2021, making it the city’s fourth warmest year on record.
Minimum temperatures in Darwin averaged 23.9C, or 0.6C above the average for the past 30 years, ranking it eighth for nighttime temperatures. Rain fell just above average at 1,787.8 mm.
Rounding out the extremes, Australia’s coldest place in 2021 was Perisher Valley in New South Wales, where the mercury dropped to 10.0C below zero on July 7.
And in a year of major flooding likely to extend into 2022, along with the La Niña setup in the Pacific Ocean, the wettest daily record was Byfield in northern Queensland. There, the rain gauge collected 550 mm on March 17.