State of the climate 2019

Michael Mann, famous climate scientist, happens to have come to Sydney to study the links between extreme weather and climate change. He tells us Australia, your country is burning – dangerous climate change is here with you now. He took his family to see the Great Barrier Reef while it is still there, and then up into the Blue Mountains, where all they could see was smoke.

He says:

The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

2019 will always be known for the fires. So how different was the climate?

We now have BOM’s Annual climate statement 2019.

2019 was Australia’s driest year on record with nationally-averaged rainfall 40% below average for the year at 277.6 mm.

2019 was Australia’s warmest year on record. Australia’s area-averaged mean temperature for 2019 was 1.52 °C above the 1961–1990 average, well above the old record: +1.33 °C in 2013. Mean maximum temperatures were the warmest on record at 2.09 °C above average, also well above the previous record, which was +1.59 °C in 2013.

Please note the temperature is referenced against the 1960-1990 average, not pre-industrial.

At 277.6 mm, 2019 rainfall was well below the previous record from 1902 which was 314.5 mm.

The main influence was a very strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), one of the strongest on record. The El Niño–Southern Oscillation remained neutral throughout 2019, so I guess things could have been worse.

All this gave us severe fire weather throughout the year; the national annual accumulated Forest Fire Danger Index was the highest since 1950, when national records began.

For images to illustrate, I’ll begin with a temperature trend for the summer months worked out by Tamino:

Looking at the graph, add about 0.5°C to get the anomaly to pre-industrial. This year looks so much an outlier that one would think it unlikely to be repeated for a few years. However, it has shown us what the future may hold.

Here are the maximum temperature deciles:

More than half the continent was the hottest on record, with average and below average bits hard to find.

Here are the rainfall deciles:

The map shows the imprint of the heavy tropical rain and flooding around Townsville, followed by Cyclone Trevor further inland. Nevertheless, every month was below the national average:

The annual bar chart going back to 1900 shows how exceptional 2019 was:

One would expect a better year for 2020, but who knows what the future pattern will be?

However, we have been warned. The BOM report gives the global temperatures for 2019 as the second highest ever:

We’ve had an El Niño contributing to warmth in four out of the last 10 years, including the record 2016. Ominously, El Niño was absent in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Climate scientist Frank Jotzo has suggested that the bushfire crisis has given the Government a political opportunity to change its policy ambition on climate:

Under climate change, the conditions for catastrophic fires will likely be much more frequent — along with the conditions for drought, flooding and storms.

So a nation-building effort to minimise risk would seem prudent.

Morrison is hiding behind the notion that solving climate change requires effort from all nations. His rhetoric is that Labor’s policy would be “economy wrecking”. Yet leading climate scientists, such as Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute say:

“Earth observations show that big systems with known tipping points are already now, at 1°C warming, on the move toward potentially irreversible change, such as accelerated melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, drying of rainforests, and thawing of Arctic permafrost”

If we don’t act now, then when?

And in terms of the economy John Quiggin estimates the cost of the fires to be north of $100 billion.

Countries are being asked to come to the 2020 meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties with increased ambition. As preparation the Climate Change Authority published a consultation paper in July, and having heard what came out of the Madrid Conference in December will shortly finalise their advice.

PM Scott Morrison could take that opportunity to show some leadership. Also he has spoken of the possibility of a royal commission on the bushfires. That could be an opportunity to pivot. However, George Megalogenis in Morrison, the political animal who missed the political opportunity to lead thinks Morrison has fluffed it, and simply does not know how to behave faced with an international pile-on.

Ben Jenkins in The people in power will let your country burn says it’s about money, politics and ideology:

this isn’t about people, it’s about ideology, and to accept the unprecedented scale of the fires and act accordingly is to accept that the climate is changing and something needs to be done. That’s it. To me, this is the most striking aspect of the crisis — the debate about how best to douse a burning country has been seamlessly press-ganged into service in the ongoing culture war, all of which is amplified and buttressed by an increasingly demented right-wing media and an absurdly powerful fossil fuels lobby.


No one is being told to calm down anymore. The smug reassurances have given way to blind panic as it comes apparent that not even the friendly media can shield the government from the rising ire of the public. But even as the army is called in to assist in the relief effort, even as Morrison agrees to pay volunteer firefighters, even as a two billion dollar recovery fund is pledged, the government refuses to alter its climate change policy.

43 thoughts on “State of the climate 2019”

  1. There was a 30 minute interview with Morrison this morning on ABC TV. I didn’t see all of it, but the take-out seems to be that he is looking to upgrade climate policy.

    On form I’d expect that to be marginal and mostly tokenism.

  2. The storm didn’t stop there:

      “This same storm system then tracked farther east and caused deadly flooding and heavy snow, with avalanches from Iran into Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Mr Leister said.

      Recently, winter avalanches have claimed at least 69 lives across Kashmir in Pakistan and India.

  3. 2019 named second-hottest year worldwide, WMO says. The average global temperature in 2019 was ONLY 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”
    “The hottest year on record worldwide was 2016, when there was a recurring weather pattern called El Nino”
    Given the damage a 1.1 deg rise has created what are the projected increases going to do?

  4. So now a drought is as catastrophic as rain.
    Both snow and no snow is pain..
    Warm is as lethal as cold.
    The young are smarter than the old.
    And everybody’s insane.

    Half have their head in the sands.
    The rest make their stands.
    The gaps widen.
    The groups tighten.
    And the media make some clams.

    It’s not often I limerick a screed.
    But sometimes I feel the need.
    We’re in it together.
    No matter the weather.
    All options should be heed.

    To paraphrase a great poet.
    I’m sure you all know it.
    It less destructive what you don’t know.
    It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
    If differing opinions are available, just go it.

    And so I end this verse.
    Right now I must disperse.
    So full of hope.
    That humanities upward slope.
    Will shrug off the Karl Marx curse.

  5. Aaaand, wrongologist zoot proves his credentials.

    You know, a broad smile happens on my face every time zoot comments, it’s almost Pythonesque in satirical form.

    Please zoot, rip a few more out so I get a more giggles with tomorrow’s coffee.

    I think 6 in a row is your PB thus far, every one a gem.

  6. There was a fine fellow called zoot
    Whose comments caused Jumpy to hoot,
    And bellow and holler,
    Hot under the collar
    Before sinking his slipper-like boot.

    That’s not poetry either.

  7. Adjudicating
    sense or talking cents, zoot asks
    for good E-Vi-Dence

    “Haiku of the Victorian Non-Master”
    (unpublished collection carved on mystic bones by myrmidons of antique arts and arcane knowledge)

    (c) protected by WTO, Berne Convention, and
    Geneva Convention Concerning the Mistreatment of Prisoners of War, who MUST NOT have these lines recited to them.

  8. Looks like the literary society meeting has ended.
    Looking at the final graph I expect Andrew Bolt is now trumpeting the end of global warming in 2016.

    [For any newcomers he declared global warming had ended in 1998 with exactly the same justification – see the chart.]

  9. These scientists and foresters have a few things to suggest about the aftermath of bushfires, especially in Victoria.

    (The “Black Saturday” fires killed about 173 persons. Previous high tolls in human lives were the “Ash Wednesday” fires of 1983 and “Black Friday” circa 1939. Apologies for any Victorian parochialism…. This State has a serious problem which recurs.)

  10. Ambi: “These scientists and foresters have a few things to suggest is an excellent article that highlights the complexity of reducing fire risk as compared to the politically driven pronouncements of the man from advertising. For example: “The problem with hectare-based targets is they can encourage indiscriminate burning. This, according to reports from both the the Bushfire Royal Commission Implementation Monitor and the Inspector-General for Emergency Management, is exactly what happened.
    Huge swathes of scrub that was of no risk to anyone was burnt, the reports found.
    “There were problems in achieving the [Royal Commission] target, and that a lot of areas in western Victoria were being treated that had very little value in terms of risk reduction,” says Professor Bradstock, himself a member of the Royal Commission’s expert panel.
    Both recommended the hectare target be dropped and replaced with a different kind of target. Rather than burn a given amount of bush, they advocated burning to cut risk by 20 per cent compared to what the risk would be if no planned burning was done at all.”
    What is done as a result of the recent bushfires needs to take account of what the experts say including experts that are concerned about environmental diversity as well as those with fire fighting expertise.
    My concern is that what Morrison wants is a quick political fix that ignores the above.

  11. Yes, John.

    There are so many factors (and sheer bad luck) in the spread of fires and the damage they do. Local knowledge held by volunteer brigades, professional firefighters, foresters, rangers, is important.

    It may be that each State will set up its own commission of inquiry. And that might well produce better outcomes for each State and its humans, farm animals and wildlife.

    With some of these issues, it may be better to put the PM “on bypass”.

    (Just as many Aussies have decided to take up rooftop solar/battery storage/electric vehicles/solar hot water/ rainwater tanks without waiting for the Canberra Bubble to Burst its Munificence Across the Land.

  12. Mr A, agreed.
    The States have dropped the ball with these recent quite large bushfires and the Fed can’t do much other than deploy the Military when it’s too late.

  13. “”As record fires rage…….””
    What record ?
    Four words in is as far as you need to read.

  14. What record?

    Oh, acreage burnt, this many this early in the fire season but I’m sure you’ll put us right by giving us the precedents (E…Vid…Ence and all that).
    After all, we have always been at war with Oceania.

  15. Good article, John.

    Phillip Adams had an extensive and informative discussion with two other experts in Overcoming Australia’s black summer.

    Some forests take 80 to 150 years to recover. They mentioned one environment, it may have been the mountain ash, that actually needs fire, but not more often than every 300 years.

    Near the beginning they mention that the chances of getting 4 consecutive days of 40°C + used to be 1 in 16,000. Now it’s 1 in 6.

    There are far too many oversimplified generalisations being thrown around.

  16. Zoot the 74-75 fires burned around 240,000,000 more acres if you’d bothered to look at the evidence I supplied up thread and they not the earliest either.

    Orwell was writing about your kind, bullshiting socialist where Government nationalisation is Capitalism and Pinochet was a Libertarian.

    Give it up, no one is stupid enough to take you seriously.

  17. Brian
    “”There are far too many oversimplified generalisations being thrown around.””
    Exactly, and incorrect hyperbolic adjectives in the media.

  18. if you’d bothered to look at the evidence I supplied up thread

    No, you haven’t provided any “evidence” in this thread.
    Got a link?

  19. Much as it pains me, I found a link to that little media company struggling to stem the tide of fake news, and yes, so far this year we haven’t burnt as big an area as in 1974/75.
    The takeaway for me was the expert they quoted

    The 1974/75 fires had almost no impact and much of the damage was found by satellite after the fact

    But Jumpy is right on one data point this time. So take his advice and don’t bother reading Richard Flanagan, nothing to see here folks.

  20. Well,, that’d be the National Political Editor and ABC regular lefty Insider Malcolm Farrs place.
    Fake news tide steminista, yeah na.

    Anyway, in what way can you* give evidence that the 2019-20 bushfires are a record on any data point?

    ( * by “ you “ I mean the leftist narrative outlets that shepherd you )

  21. is an Australian news and entertainment website owned by News Corp Australia.
    Not sure what the rest of your word salad means but it’s my fault, I only understand English (and irony).

  22. I just put this stupid notion that Murdoch’s editors are right wingers is what just happened.
    Please catch up and put some work towards a few compression skills.
    That’d be great.

    Also, data points that make records or are “ unprecedented “ by these fires ?

    Pony up big mouth.

  23. And in news you appear to have missed, Farr retired at the end of last year after a long association with Rupert’s struggling media outfit (dear me, only two paywalled outlets? how does he make a quid?).

  24. Hah, one way answer valve zoot.
    Pony up for once, I’ve answered plenty of your questions.
    Ok, here’s Laura Tingle
    If you can’t see the lies by omission then there’s no reason to continue trying to reason with you. There’s the ev.i.dence, you’ve just gotta recognise it.

    So, these records?
    Giddy up naked Emperor ( or pet team special kid more like )

  25. If you can’t see the lies by omission then there’s no reason to continue trying to reason with you.

    You’re right (gosh, twice in one day!) since I can’t read your mind I have no idea what you think La Tingle has left out, ipso facto you’re wasting your time. (Although I’m not sure where you picked up the idea that I could read your mind).

  26. Well I’ve read it again, still can’t see where she’s lying.
    She doesn’t mention the stump jump plough or the hills hoist or our nation’s baptism of blood at Gallipoli or the foundation of the ALP or how we won the America’s Cup in 1983 or any one of a myriad of things.
    Which bits are the lies?

  27. Was it Phar Lap? Should she have mentioned Phar Lap?? Or Herb Elliott or Don Bradman?
    (Still can’t see how omitting them would be a lie)

  28. “ Todaloo MF. “
    Is what an immature person would say, but I’ll bow out a resoundingly better person of integrity and openly honest by saying G’night ya little scamp.

    There’s always tomorrow to redeem yourself.

  29. Jumpy, your Wikipedia link says this under the section on Climate change:

      Australia’s climate has warmed by more than one degree Celsius over the past century, causing an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves and droughts.[57] Eight of Australia’s ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2005.[58] A study in 2018 conducted at Melbourne University found that the major droughts of the late 20th century and early 21st century in southern Australia are “likely without precedent over the past 400 years”.[59] Across the country, the average summer temperatures have increased leading to record-breaking hot weather,[60] with the early summer of 2019 the hottest on record.[61] 2019 was also Australia’s driest ever year since 1900 with rainfall 40% lower than average.[62]

    I think they are trying to tell you that what is happening this summer is without precedent, no?

  30. A large factor in Victorian bushfires is fuel load. Drought can dry out gullies that normally stay damp and eould not burn .

    Low humidity allows leaf litter on gorest floors to quickly dry out, increasing its flammability and increasing its energy of combustion. The humidity effect is on a timescale of hours and days.

    Strong winds spread embers rapidly and fan the flames.

    High temperatures evaporate huge clouds of flammable eucalyptus oils, ready to explode if the fire reaches the tree crowns.

    So a long drought has a big influence; as does hotter weather.

    Summer “dry lightning” can spark a fire in a remote place. Strong winds can bring down live power lines with sparks. Transformers on poles can arc across especially on dry, dusty summer days, spilling molten metal.

    Plenty to consider.

  31. would not burn*

    forest floor

    * reports of local CFA brigades after the Ash Wednesday fire disaster in SA and Victoria

  32. In reports just in, by faithful and dependable carrier pigeon, an interconnector betwixt Adelaide Town and Melbourne Town has been inconvenienced by a DBS (Dirty Big Storm) which brought some metal towers crashing down…. I’m not really the best fellow to advise you what this is all about….. quite happy as long as the snuff and flintlock supplies are ample, there’s a good chap. That will be all: run along now.

    Squire Ambi of Hereabouts
    And Don’t You Forget It.

    High Dray Spinney
    Alluvial Pebbles

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