It’s official: 2021 coolest and wettest year of the decade

By Melissa Coade

Monday January 10, 2022

By the end of 2021 no large parts of the country were experiencing rainfall deficits and drought conditions. (Adobe)

A preview of the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) annual climate statement has concluded that last year was the coolest Australia has experienced in a decade but also the 19th warmest year since national records began in 1910.

The statement provides an official summary and contextual information regarding temperatures, rainfall and significant weather for the 2021 calendar year.

BOM senior climatologist Dr Simon Grainger noted that the conditions of 2021 marked a change after three years of drought from 2017 to 2019. Recorded rainfall was 9% above the 1961 to 1990 average, with November 2021 the wettest month on record.

“It was also the wettest November on record for NSW and South Australia,” Grainger said.

“Above average rainfall last year resulted in a welcome recharge of our water storages but also some significant flooding to eastern Australia.”

According to the climate statement, by the end of 2021 no large parts of the country were experiencing rainfall deficits and drought conditions. This was the first time in five years that Australia experienced such conditions.

As a result of the rain, major dams in the Murray Darling Basin enjoyed ‘significant increases of water levels’, replenishing storages that had come about from protracted drought.

Eastern Australia experienced significant flooding in March, then again in November and December last year. And above average rainfall was recorded for much of eastern Victoria, New South Wales, southern and central west Queensland, the western parts of Western Australia, and large parts of the far northern tropics in 2021.

In terms of heat, last year was warmer than the average (calculated in relation to the 1961 to 1990 climate reference period) and warmer than historical La Niña years. Australia’s mean temperature in 2021 was 0.56°C above the 1961 to 1990 climate reference period.

“It turns out that 2021 was actually almost 0.4°C cooler than the average temperature over the last decade from 2011-2020,” Grainger said.

“It’s also worth noting that 2016 was the last time that we had a negative Indian Ocean Dipole affecting Australia,” he added, explaining that while this had a cooling impact, the east Indian ocean experienced warmer than usual temperatures.

“Those conditions really helped to increase rainfall, particularly in the later part of the year, and contributed to Australia’s wettest November on record.”

The year started with an La Niña influence declared in the summer of 2020-2021 and then La Niña emerged again in the tropical pacific in spring, with a weather pattern that increased rainfall during Australia’s 2021 spring and summer. 

The BOM released an official summary of its 2021 climate statement last week, with the full report to be released in February. 

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