AUSTRALIA has capped two years of extraordinary warmth with 2014 declared the third hottest on record just 12 months after 2013 smashed annual highs, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Mean temperatures across the country in 2014 came in 0.91 degrees above the 1961-1990 average, behind only 2013 and 2005. Visit FarmOnline Weather for more updates and information
No year since 1985 has observed a below-average global mean temperature and all of the 10 warmest years have occurred between 1998 and the present.
Melbourne posted its equal warmest year on record in 2014, while Sydney's average mean temperatures were 1.6 degrees above average, placing it behind only 2013.
"in 2014, we had quite a few heatwaves that contributed to those very warm conditions," said Agata Imielska, senior climatologist at the Bureau in Sydney. "There have been a lack of cool outbreaks."
Among the states, NSW had its hottest year for means on record last year, while Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia all posted their second warmest years. Only the Northern Territory missed out on a ranking among the four warmest years.
"A number of prolonged and geographically extensive warm spells affected Australia during 2014, resulting in monthly records for highest temperature being set at numerous locations," the bureau said in its annual climate statement.
The unusual warmth over the past two years has come despite the absence of a full El Nino in the Pacific, a climate pattern that tends to push up temperatures across much of Australia and south-east Asia.
Climatologists say background conditions are warming as a build-up of greenhouse gases traps more of the sun's heat in the atmosphere, making it increasingly likely that heat rather than cold records get broken.
"Global warming is contributing to these heat records, and it's very unlikely that we would have seen the proliferation or the frequency of these heat records around the world without the influence of global warming," head of climate monitoring at the Bureau Karl Braganza said.
"The climate system we live in...that's all about 1 degree warmer than it used to be," Dr Braganza said.
Tuesday's release of the annual survey comes a day after Perth reported its hottest January day for that site, with 44.4 degrees, and fire crews in South Australia continue to battle bushfires across the state as a second heatwave in less than a week laps over the region.
With 2014 likely to be declared the warmest year on record globally, the Japan Meteorological Agency made the call this week and other agencies are expected to follow suit later this month.
"No year since 1985 has observed a below-average global mean temperature and all of the 10 warmest years have occurred between 1998 and the present," the Bureau of Meteorology said in the statement.
While last year was a warm one for most of the country, rainfall levels varied significantly. National rainfall came in at 478 millimetres, or 3 per cent above average, thanks largely to a wet year in northern Australia.
Much of western Victoria, south-eastern South Australia, northern NSW and south-eastern Queensland were in their lowest 10 per cent of years for rainfall.
"National rainfall totals during 2014 reinforce the pattern of recent decades, with above-average rainfall during the peak of the summer monsoon season and below-average rainfall during the cooler half of the year," the report said.
The shift towards a drying out of the winter season in southern Australia is forcing farmers to alter their harvesting practices.
Victoria has been notably drier, with 15 of the past 18 years drier than the long-term average. The relatively wet years - 2000, 2010 and 2011 - were all La Nina years, when conditions in the Pacific favour rainfall and cooler conditions over eastern Australia.