2013 shaping up to be one of Australia's hottest years on record

The last 10 months

The last 10 months have been abnormally warm across Australia setting many heat records with a lack of unusually cold weather in most parts of the country. The more significant records for this period include:

  • Australia's hottest day on record;
  • Australia's hottest week on record;
  • Australia's hottest month on record;
  • Australia's hottest summer on record; and
  • Australia's hottest September to June (10 months) on record;

A feature of the last 10 months has been the persistence of unusually warm temperatures with every calendar month since September 2012 showing temperatures 0.5 °C or more above normal. The result has been a national mean temperature anomaly of +1.03 °C for the past 10 months, well ahead of the previous record of +0.94 °C set in 1997–98.

The record heat has affected rural, regional and urban Australia alike, with many stations setting records including the capital cities of Hobart (41.8 °C) and Sydney (45.8 °C) which both recorded their hottest days on record. The last 10 months have seen above-normal temperatures over 97 per cent of Australia; only the Capricornia district of central Queensland has missed out.

Year to date temperatures deciles for Australia showing that temperatures have been above average to record warm over nearly the whole continent in 2013.

Year-to-date temperature deciles for Australia showing that temperatures have been above average to record warm over nearly the whole continent in 2013.

The heat has extended to the oceans around Australia with record warm sea surface temperatures during summer, January and February 2013 as well as the warmest start to a calendar year (January to June) on record.

Year to date sea surface temperature deciles around Australia showing that temperatures have been above average to record warm in most oceans around Australia in 2013.

Year-to-date sea surface temperature deciles around Australia showing that temperatures have been above average to record warm in most oceans around Australia in 2013.

Record heat following the demise of La Niña

Australia's climate has been on a roller coaster in recent years. 2009 was a particularly hot year (nation-wide anomaly of +0.81 °C and the third warmest year since national records began in 1910), while 2010 (with 704 mm and third wettest) and 2011 (with 708 mm and second wettest) were very wet years Australia wide. 2012 was a year of transition from a significant La Niña event with widespread flooding and heavy rain to abnormally hot and dry conditions from September onwards. This heat eventually culminated in the record hot summer of 2012–13 which in combination with dry conditions led to severe and widespread bushfire activity in southern Australia.

The past few years highlight a number of features of the Australian climate, and provide some context to the recent unusually hot period.

Perhaps the most obvious is the role played by the regular and (mostly) natural cycles from El Niño (typically dry and warm) to La Niña (typically wet and cooler) conditions across Australia. Australian temperatures from late 2010 to mid-2012 were kept relatively cool by two major La Niña events and record high rainfall which gave rise to widespread flooding affecting much of the country. The cooler conditions were a direct result of the high rainfall during these two years. Widespread, excess rain over the continent effectively acts like a large evaporative cooler, suppressing daytime temperatures in particular, while additional cloud cover also cools daytime temperatures, especially in summer. The national mean temperature from September 2010 to August 2012 was 0.27 °C below the 1961–1990 average, while the rainfall was the highest on record with 1365 mm falling on Australia; against a 2-year average of just 930 mm.

Another feature of recent climate in Australia is that background trends have continued; in the case of temperature, the warming trend is adding a warming bias to the natural variability. This was apparent even during the two recent La Niña years. While late 2010 through early 2012 were slightly cooler than the 1961–1990 average, the period was warmer than comparable wet periods of the past, such as those which occurred during the 1970s and 1950s. In other words, while the temperatures were below average, the warming trend held the values higher than they should have been without the trend, given the amount of rain that fell.

The warming trend over Australia now means that, in the absence of year-to-year natural variability, a calendar year can be expected to be (on average) around +0.35 °C above the 1961–1990 base period, or about 0.9 °C warmer than the temperatures during the early decades of the Twentieth Century. Every year – wet, dry or with near average rainfall – is affected by this warming trend which favours the occurrence of abnormally hot years, and a reduction in the number of cool years. This is most obviously seen at the annual time scale where typically only one year in ten is now cooler than average.

How is 2013 likely to finish?

July update now available

While it is not possible to accurately predict temperatures by month for the remainder of 2013, it is possible to look at recent temperatures and longer-term trends to develop a range of scenarios for how the year may end.

Two sets of numbers summarise the current situation and allow us to determine the range of values under which 2013 temperatures might fall. The first is the year-to-date (January 1 to June 30 2013) Australian mean temperature anomaly. At the end of June, 2013 is currently sitting equal second-warmest on record with an anomaly of +0.99 °C; some 0.17 °C behind the warmest on record in 2005 (January to June). On face value, it appears that the current year has some catching-up to do to surpass 2005 as a record hot calendar year.

The top three warmest January to June periods on record are:
2005 +1.16 °C
2013 +0.99 °C
1998 +0.99 °C
Year to date mean temperature anomaly for Australia, indicating that the three warmest January to June periods (2005, 2013 and 1998) stand well above any others

Year-to-date mean temperature anomaly for Australia, indicating that the three warmest January to June periods (2005, 2013 and 1998) stand well above any others.

However, if we look at the hottest years, we find that 2013 is closer to beating the 112 year record than might first appear to be the case.

Calendar year 2005 saw falling temperatures (or more precisely, less positive temperature anomalies) during the second half of the year. If the temperature anomalies seen so far to the end of June 2013 were to persist until year's end, 2013 will fall just short of being the nation's hottest year on record.

The top three calendar years on record are:
2005 +1.03 °C
1998 +0.85 °C
2009 +0.81 °C

A range of scenarios for 2013 temperatures are provided in the table below and displayed in the accompanying graph. Arguably, the first three are the more likely scenarios for the remainder of 2013, and show that it is likely that 2013 will finish as one of Australia's warmest years on record.

Temperature scenarios for
the remainder of 2013
(July to December)
Annual Australian temperature anomaly Rank and comment
Current temperature anomaly (+0.99 °C) persists to end of year +0.99 °C 2nd warmest year on record.
Last 6 months of 2013 follow the last 10 year average (+0.60 °C) +0.79 °C 4th warmest year on record.
Temperatures return to the long-term trend (+0.35 °C) +0.67 °C 6th warmest year on record.
Last 6 months of 2013 is a record warm period (current record is +1.23 °C in 2009) >1.11 °C Warmest year on record.
Temperatures return to the long term (1961–1990) average (anomaly 0.0 °C) +0.50 °C 10th warmest year on record.
Last 6 months of 2013 is a record cold period –0.04 °C 43rd warmest year on record.
ytd temp anomaly scenarios Aus

Year to date temperature anomalies for Australia (January to June 2013) showing a range of scenarios (see table) compared with past July to December outcomes. The light blue shaded area shows the range of historical outcomes from hottest to coldest. Continuation of the current anomaly will see 2013 fall just short of a new Australian annual mean temperature record.

The Bureau's National temperature outlook for August to October was issued on 24 July 2013. This outlook suggests below average maximum temperatures are more likely in eastern Australia. This is largely offset by shifts towards above average maximum temperatures in northern and western areas. For minimum temperatures, most parts of Australia show a shift towards above average temperatures, which are particularly strong in the tropics. This reinforces the expectation that the coming months will be warmer than average overall.

We know that, in the absence of a significant La Niña event and excessive rain, Australian mean temperatures are unlikely to be below normal over the remainder of the year (July to December); only two of the last 20 years have seen below-normal July to December temperatures. On the warm side, a record hot finish to the year would see Australia pass the annual temperature record currently held by 2005. We note that the second half of 2013 needs to run near record cold for the 2013 annual anomaly to fall below 0.0 °C, a scenario that is statistically possible, but regarded as highly unlikely.

In summary, at the midpoint of 2013 we can be quite confident that the current calendar year will be one of Australia's warmest years on record. It is possible that 2013 will set a new record high if the remainder of the year tracks slightly warmer than the first 6 months have been. The unusually warm ocean temperatures currently surrounding Australia and the monotonic increase in the enhanced greenhouse effect mean that a warm end to the year remains likely.

July update

Nationally, July was an unusually warm month compared with recent July months. The Australian mean temperature anomaly for July 2013 was +1.46 °C, making it the 3rd warmest July on record. Compared with recent months, it was the second warmest monthly mean temperature anomaly for 2013, and the fourth month this year with an anomaly greater than +1.0 °C. The year-to-date mean temperature anomaly is now +1.06 °C, slightly behind 2005 which was +1.16 °C at this time.

The previous analysis of temperature scenarios for the remainder of 2013 (July to December) indicated that if the January to June temperature anomaly of +0.99 °C persisted for the remaining months of 2013, the year would be the second warmest on record. The relatively warm July has changed the outcomes for this and the other scenarios that were considered. Indeed, now if a temperature anomaly of +1.01 °C occurred for August to December, 2013 would then be the warmest calandar year on record. This would result in a 2013 average Australian mean temperature anomaly of +1.04 °C, compared with +1.03 °C in 2005.

For the same scenarios considered previously, the addition of July’s data results in the three most likely scenarios to increase their rank for the annual Australian mean temperature anomaly. Even if the last five months follows the average from the previous 10 years, the year will still be the second warmest on record, and the fourth warmest if the temperature anomalies return to the long term trend value of +0.35 °C. At the other end of the possible scenarios, the coldest last five months for the year will not result in an annual negative mean temperature anomaly.

Temperature Scenarios for
the Remainder of 2013
(August to December)
Annual Australian Temperature Anomaly
(July to December scenario in brackets)
Rank and Comment
(July to December scenario in brackets)
Current temperature anomaly (+1.06 °C) persists to end of year +1.06 °C (+0.99 °C) Warmest year on record.
(2nd warmest year on record)
Last 5 months of 2013 follow the last 10 year average (+0.62 °C) +0.87 °C (+0.79 °C) 2nd warmest year on record.
(4th warmest year on record)
Temperatures return to the long term trend (+0.35 °C) +0.76 °C (+0.67 °C) 4th warmest year on record.
(6th warmest year on record)
Last 5 months of 2013 are record warm (current record is +1.32 °C in 2009) >1.16 °C (>1.11 °C) Warmest year on record.
(Warmest year on record)
Temperatures return to the long term average (0.0 °C) +0.62 °C (+0.50 °C) 7th warmest year on record.
(10th warmest year on record)
Last 5 months of 2013 is a record cold period +0.08 °C (-0.04 °C) 40th warmest year on record.
(43rd warmest year on record)
Year to date Mean Temperature for Australia

Year-to-date mean temperature anomaly for Australia, indicating the two warmest January to July periods (2005 and 2013) are higher than any others.

Year to date temperature anomalies for Australia (January to July 2013) showing a range of scenarios (see table) compared with past August to December outcomes. The light blue shaded area shows the range of historical outcomes from hottest to coldest. Continuation of the current anomaly will see 2013 be a new Australian annual mean temperature record.

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