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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray

6 January 2003

Australia's Climate for 2002: Warm and Dry


Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, today announced the release of the 2002 Australian Climate Summary issued by the Bureau of Meteorology's National Climate Centre (copy attached).

Widespread dry conditions during 2002 resulted in Australia's fourth driest year on record. Dry conditions were remarkably widespread, with most of the eastern half and south-west corner of the country recording well-below-average rainfall for the year. "The mean Australian rainfall for the March to December period, which includes critical crop growing seasons, was the lowest of all equivalent periods on record", Dr Stone said today.

The low rainfall has been associated with an El Niño event which developed during Autumn and persisted for the remainder of the year. These events involve unusually warm water developing in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean and often lead to low rainfall over Australia.

The Bureau's official climate summary highlights that 2002 was also unusually warm. The all-Australian annual mean temperature was the fifth highest on record. The main contribution to the extreme warmth came from daytime temperatures, with the annual mean maximum temperature being the highest on record.

Globally, an extremely warm year was also experienced with the average temperature over the globe for 2002 expected to be the second warmest on record. In line with global trends, Australia's mean temperature has been showing a general warming trend over the past 100 years.

"While I understand that there is increasing speculation that the extreme warmth and dryness of the past year in Australia may be linked to human-induced greenhouse warming, I expect that this will be a matter for debate in the scientific community for quite some time before we will have firm answers", Dr Stone said.

The rainfall and temperature records on which the Australian averages are based were assembled by the National Climate Centre from observations taken by the Bureau of Meteorology's extensive network of observing offices, automatic weather stations, cooperative observers and volunteer rainfall observers.

"The extreme climate of 2002 highlights the need to maintain high-quality climate observations. It also underscores the benefits of exchanging such data globally", Dr Stone said. "International exchange of climate data not only enables the monitoring of global climate trends but also provides critical data for the better understanding of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, allowing Australians to be better prepared for the seasons ahead".

Contact:
Andrew Cox, Office of Dr Sharman Stone
Mobile 0408057226

6 January 2003


Annual Australian Climate Summary 2002


Big Dry and record warm daytime temperatures

Widespread dry conditions during 2002 resulted in one of Australia's driest years on record. It was also one of the warmest. The all-Australian average maximum temperature was the highest on record.

Preliminary data indicate that 2002 was Australia's fourth driest year on record since 1900. The total annual rainfall averaged across all of Australia for 2002 was 339mm, well below the long-term average of 472mm. After some useful rain in February, the mean Australian rainfall for the March to December period was the lowest of all equivalent periods on record. Dry conditions were remarkably widespread, with most of the eastern half and southwest corner of the country recording well below average rainfall for the year.

The low rainfall has been associated with an El Niño event (unusually warm water in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean) which developed during Autumn and persisted for the remainder of the year. Such events usually lead to low rainfall over Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology's National Climate Centre calculates Australia's average rainfall value from a representative network of around 5000 rainfall stations, most of which are staffed by volunteer observers.

Annual total rainfall (mm) averaged across Australia for each year since 1900.

Annual total rainfall (mm) averaged across Australia for each year since 1900.

Rainfall map comparing 2002 rainfall with the long-term rainfall distribution.

Rainfall map comparing 2002 rainfall with the long-term rainfall distribution.

Dry conditions were accompanied by much warmer than average daytime temperatures. Australia's annual mean maximum temperature was 1.22°C above average, substantially exceeding the previous highest anomaly of +0.91°C set in 1980. But despite the high daytime temperatures, reduced cloudiness resulted in overnight temperatures being closer to average with the Australian mean minimum temperature being only 0.01°C below the long-term average. Consequently, the overall Australian annual mean temperature was 0.61°C above the long-term average, making 2002 Australia's fifth warmest year on record since 1910 (the period for which all-Australian averages are sufficiently reliable for use as a basis for comparison).

Annual temperature departures from the 1961-90 mean (normal) averaged across Australia.

Annual temperature departures from the 1961-90 mean (normal) averaged across Australia.

Almost all of Australia recorded above average mean temperatures during 2002. Many of the warmest parts of the country were also amongst the driest.

Map of mean temperature anomalies across Australia during 2002.

Map of mean temperature anomalies across Australia during 2002.

Australian mean temperatures are calculated from a network of about 110 high-quality, mostly rural observing stations throughout the country. The temperature records at these locations have been adjusted for artificial discontinuities caused by changes in instrumentation and siting. Many of the sites are included in Australia's Reference Climate Station network - a special network established to monitor long-term climate trends and variability.

Australian temperatures show a general rise during the 20th century, in line with global warming trends indicated by independent records from surface observation networks, weather balloons, satellites and glaciers. According to a preliminary estimate released by the World Meteorological Organization on 17 December 2002, the global mean temperature for 2002 was the second warmest on record (since 1861). Global temperature analyses are made possible through the World Meteorological Organization's policy of free and unrestricted exchange of international climate data.

For more information:
Dean Collins Ph: (03) 9669 4780 E-mail: D.Collins@bom.gov.au
David Jones Ph: (03) 9669 4085 E-mail: D.Jones@bom.gov.au
Neil Plummer Ph: (03) 9669 4086 E-mail: N.Plummer@bom.gov.au

A colour version of this statement is available at: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/change/archive/media03.shtml

The World Meteorological Organization's statement on the global climate of 2002 can be found at: http://www.wmo.ch/web/Press/Press684.pdf

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