By Alice Klein Sydney, New South WalesAndrew Merry/GettyLast year was Australia’s hottest, driest year ever, according to the annual climate statement of the national Bureau of Meteorology. The conditions have intensified the current wildfires, which are the worst on record. The average daytime maximum temperature across Australia in 2019 was 30.7°C , the highest since…


                        <div class="mceTemp"></div><figure class="article-image-inline" data-method="caption-shortcode"><img src="https://images.newscientist.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ns-logo-for-featured-image.jpg?width=800" data-src="https://images.newscientist.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/08121212/gettyimages-1173491617.jpg?width=300" data- class="image lazyload" alt="Sydney, New South Wales"><div class="image-details"><figcaption class="font-sans-serif-xxxs--bold">Sydney, New South Wales</figcaption><p class="credit font-sans-serif-xxxs--regular">Andrew Merry/Getty</p></div></figure>Last year was Australia&rsquo;s hottest, driest year ever, according to the annual climate statement of the national Bureau of Meteorology. The conditions have intensified the current wildfires, which are the worst on record.

The average daytime maximum temperature across Australia in 2019 was 30.7°C , the highest since records began in 1910 and 2.1°C above the usual average. The extreme temperatures were spread across most of the country.

Australia also had six of its hottest single days on record in 2019. On 18 December – the most extreme of these days – the average daytime maximum across Australia was 41.9°C.

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The hottest temperature recorded anywhere in Australia in 2019 was in Nullarbor in South Australia, where it reached 49.9°C on 19 December. This fell just shy of Australia’s hottest-ever recorded temperature – 50.7°C – which occurred at Oodnadatta in South Australia on 2 January 1960.

Read more: Death toll rises as thousands seek shelter from Australian bush fires

Australia’s average rainfall total in 2019 was 277 millimetres, the lowest since records began in 1900 and about 40 per cent below normal. Severe drought affected large parts of the country.

“Since we’ve been keeping records, we’ve never seen an overlapping hottest year on record and driest year on record,” says Karl Braganza at the Bureau of Meteorology. This has driven the unprecedented fires that have ripped through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia since September, he says.

The hot, dry conditions in 2019 were caused by a climate phenomenon called a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which was unusually strong, as well as human-induced climate change, says Andrew Watkins at the Bureau.

Since the beginning of last century, global warming has raised Australia’s average temperature by just over 1°C. This doesn’t sound like much, but it means that Australia’s extreme temperature days are also a degree hotter, which is why records keep being broken, says Watkins.

The positive IOD has recently shifted back to neutral, meaning rainfall may increase slightly in the coming months, says Braganza. However, temperatures are still predicted to be hotter than normal for the rest of summer, he says.

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