Although seasonal influenza viruses circulate globally, prevention and treatment occur at the level of regions, cities, and communities. At these scales, the timing, duration and magnitude of epidemics vary substantially, but the underlying causes of this variation are poorly understood. Here, based on analyses of a 15-year city-level dataset of 18,250 laboratory-confirmed and antigenically-characterised influenza virus infections from Australia, we investigate the effects of previously hypothesised environmental and virological drivers of influenza epidemics. We find that anomalous fluctuations in temperature and humidity do not predict local epidemic onset timings. We also find that virus antigenic change has no consistent effect on epidemic size. In contrast, epidemic onset time and heterosubtypic competition have substantial effects on epidemic size and composition. Our findings suggest that the relationship between influenza population immunity and epidemiology is more complex than previously supposed and that the strong influence of short-term processes may hinder long-term epidemiological forecasts.