What Does Australia's Climate Look Like?

"Australia’s climate is already variable from year to year and place to place, but climate events are becoming more extreme and harder to adapt to under current governance.”

Let's break it down:

  • As the sixth largest country in the world it’s not surprising that Australia is home to a wide range of climates from the wet tropics in the North to the distinct four seasons in the south.
  • We have a coastline reaching almost 40,000km. 
  • Rainfall is typically low; more than 80% of our country has an annual rainfall of less than 600mm. 
  • Climates are prone to extremes - droughts, heatwaves, fires and floods. 
  • These extremes have an impact on communities, natural environments and regional economies. It’s important that we understand these extremes. 

 

What makes Australia's climate the way it is?

El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO): The wind that sweeps over the Pacific Ocean typically blows from east to west. When this pattern varies it can be labelled an El Niño (drier conditions, warmer temperatures), or a La Nina (wetter conditions, cooler temperatures). The phases of ENSO can lead to climatic extremes such as increased frequency and severity of droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires (El Niño), and increases in flooding and cyclones (La Niña).  

The Indian Ocean Dipole: This is a measure of the difference in sea surface temperature and can lead to lower rainfall over parts of central and southern Australia or an increase in rainfall over parts of southern Australia. 

The Australian monsoon: This key driver of the tropical and wet seasons is marked by moisture saturated north-west monsoonal winds. 

The Southern Annular Mode: The north-south movement of the westerly wind belt that revolves around Antarctica can either bring stable, dry conditions over southern Australia or increased storms and rain depending on their direction of travel.

 

What's happening in Australia's climate today?

Weather extremes have become more frequent or intense in recent decades. Some, most likely, are in response to climate change.

  • Over the last 120 years, Australia has experienced three major droughts.
  • On average, around 11 tropical cyclones affect the Australian continent each year, these are expected to become more intense in years to come.
  • The east coast has seen large ocean waves and heavy rainfall causing extreme winds, waves and rainfall resulting in catastrophic flooding. 
  • Heatwaves are increasing in frequency and severity as a result of global warming. In fact, they’re expected to be more than three times the length they are now by 2090. 
  • On average, there are more than 50,000 bushfires in Australia each year and over the past couple of years we have experienced widespread burning across the whole country with the 2019-20 fire season which burned more than 46 million acres (the same area as the entire country of Syria). Bushfires destroyed at least 3,500 homes and 34 people lost their lives due to bushfires between September 2019 to March 2020.