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Record Heat Parched Southern Australia in 2007

CANBERRA, Australia, January 3, 2007 (ENS) – For many Australians 2007 was the warmest year on record, although when averaged across the whole continent, it was only the sixth warmest year, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s 2007 Climate Statement issued today by the National Climate Centre.

Statistically, the mean temperature for Australia was 0.67°C above average in 2007, making it the sixth warmest year since high quality Australia-wide recordkeeping began in 1910.

Australia has now recorded a warmer-than-average year for 16 of the past 18 years. “This pattern is not surprising given that Australia’s climate is warming in line with the rest of the globe,” said the bureau.

In the southern half of the continent, temperatures were well above normal, with South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and the country’s food bowl, the Murray Darling Basin, all recording their warmest years on record.


Drought grips Lake Hume,
the furthest downstream of
the major reservoirs on the
Murray River system.
December 2007. (Photo
credit unknown)

A grim feature of the year has been extremely low water availability across parts of Australia, although the continent as a whole received near average rainfall.

“The worst drought on record is continuing to bite hard throughout Australia’s food bowl,” said Dr. Wendy Craik, chief executive of the Murray Darling Basin Commission.

The basin is home to two million people and supplies nearly half Australia’s fruit and cereal crops. The ongoing drought intensified early in November with the onset of very hot weather. Temperatures were up to six degrees above average for much of the southern part of the Basin.

In December, Craik said total Murray water storage was lower than this time last year, which was the lowest for December since 1940.

Less than one percent of divertible water is available for critical environmental watering to protect endangered species and habitats, she said.

National Farmers Federation Vice-President Charles Burke said that early in the year Australian farmers were hopeful that there would be a strong winter cropping season as early rain promised to see production meet high global prices, driven by demand for sugar and grains from the growing biofuels market.

“However, the failure of the rains to eventuate over both winter and spring saw that optimism wane as the sector was plunged into unprecedented back-to-back winter crop failures, and minimal water allocations for many farms across the country,” Burke said.

“As a result, farm debt mounted, rising to over $45 billion,” he said.


Sheep on a farm near Hillston
in western New South Wales
(Photo by Rodney Dekker)

“Australian farmers are now hoping that 2008 will bring them a greater share of these prices and that vastly improved rainfall can finally break the back of drought,” said Burke.

But there appears to be little drought relief in sight. Patchy rainfall across southern Australia means that long-term droughts persist in the far southwest and in the southeast, including the Murray Darling Basin, all of Victoria and northern Tasmania.

Southeastern Australia has now missed out on the equivalent of an average year’s rainfall over the duration of the continuing 11 year drought, the bureau said today.

Despite promising rains during the first half of the year, July to October was particularly dry. It was not until November that rain returned to much of the continent with the emergence of a La Niña event – a cooling of sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

Overall, annual rainfall was average to above average across northern and central Australia, and average to below average in the southwest, with mixed results in the southeast.

Cool temperatures during the austral winter in June were a result of highly unusual heavy rains over northern Australia, and a series of low pressure systems, including that which caused extensive flooding around Newcastle.

Since January 1, 1908, the Bureau of Meteorology has been responsible for collecting, managing and safeguarding Australia’s climate record, allowing data recorded today to be placed in historical context.

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