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Australian Meteorology through the 20th Century


The Origins of Australian Meteorology

Meteorology in the 20th Century

The Weather and Climate of the Twentieth Century
Tropical Cyclones
Severe Storms

The Great Weather and Climate Events of the Twentieth Century

A Century of Progress in Science and Service


Australian Meteorological Milestones of the 20th Century



Contact us


The history of annual mean temperature over Australia through most of the twentieth century is shown in Figure 10.

Areal average temperature anomalies

Figure 10 Areal average temperature anomalies (C) over Australia relative to the 1961–90 normals for the period 1910–99.

The overall warming trend during the second half of the century evident in Figure 10 is much more strongly evident in minimum temperatures than in maximum temperatures and it is not uniform over the continent. In fact, some parts of NSW and northern Queensland experienced a slight cooling trend over the century as a whole, as shown in Figure 11.

Annual mean temperature

Figure 11 The trend in annual mean temperature over Australia for the period 1910–99 in C per century.

Tropical Cyclones

Although a number may have gone undetected in the early years and the apparent increase in frequency in the middle part of the century may not be real, it appears that some 800–1,000 tropical cyclones have developed in the Australian region (105–165E) during the twentieth century, with as few as one and as many as nineteen in a single season (Figure 12). Figure 13 shows their tracks for the ten-year period 1970–80.

Anual occurrences of tropical cyclones

Figure 12 The annual occurrences of tropical cyclones in the Australian region (105–165E) from July 1909 to June 2000.

Tropical cyclone tracks

Figure 13 Tropical cyclone tracks in the Australian region, 1970–80.

The loss of life from tropical cyclones was greatest in the early part of the century, with several infamous cyclones of the early years striking almost without warning. Among the best known are the Broome cyclone of 1908 (loss of 50 lives), the Mackay cyclone of 1918, the Darwin cyclone of 1939, cyclone Ada (which struck the Whitsunday Islands in January 1970 with a loss of 13 lives), cyclone Tracy in 1974 and cyclone Vance (which produced the strongest measured wind gust on mainland Australia (267 km/h) as it passed close to Exmouth, Western Australia, on 22 March 1999).


The twentieth century witnessed many disastrous floods including both flash floods and riverine floods along the eastern, western and northern coasts as well as in the westward and southwest flowing rivers of the Murray Darling system. Six years: 1954, 55, 56, 59, 71 and 74, stand out as the major flood years of the century, with the Hunter floods of February 1955 and the Brisbane flood of January 1974 perhaps the worst. Other notable floods included the Todd River flood at Alice Springs in March 1910, the Latrobe River flood in Victoria in December 1934, the Charleville flood of April 1990, the northeastern Victorian floods of October 1993 and the Katherine (NT) flood of January 1998.

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© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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