Australia records its 8th warmest year as climate change lifts temperatures

A view of cracked earth due to drought at a small water reservoir in Armidale in rural Australia

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia experienced its eighth-warmest year in 2023, with the influence of climate change pushing average temperatures almost 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1961-1990 average, the weather bureau said on Thursday.

Last year's extreme weather swings took Australia from widespread flooding and the coolest January since 2002 through the hottest southern hemisphere winter and early spring and driest three months on record to end with heavy rainfall as summer got underway.

Floods, cyclones and wildfires cost several lives, and the mid-year heat and lack of rainfall roiled the country's huge agricultural industry, pushing down wheat yields, crashing livestock prices and boosting meat exports.

Forecasters warn that climate change will make Australia hotter and increase the severity of weather extremes.

"Climate change continues to influence Australia's climate," the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The national mean temperature was 0.98 C warmer than the 1961–1990 average, with the winter average 1.53 C above the 1961–1990 average, the bureau said.

Rainfall was 1.6% above the 1961–1990 national average at 473.70mm (18.6 inches), but this was skewed in favour of northern regions were few crops are grown, while parts of Western Australia, the country's biggest wheat growing state, had their lowest rainfall on record.

The bureau said that globally 2023 was the warmest year on record, with ocean temperatures at their highest ever since April and the extent of Antarctic sea ice at a record low for much of the year.

For most of 2023, Australia was in the grip of an El Nino weather phenomenon - a warming of the Pacific Ocean waters along the equator off the coast of South America that typically causes hot, dry weather in Australia and Southeast Asia.

Forecasters expect El Nino to fade and perhaps swing later this year into its opposite, La Nina, which makes wetter weather more likely in Australia.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)