Australia’s Angry Summer

March 6th, 2013 by Michon Scott

Australia is no stranger to fires, floods, drought, and heat. But a new report from the Australian Climate Commission not only points out that fire hazards and extreme weather events are worsening, it links them to a warming climate.

The report focuses on what it calls the “Angry Summer” of 2012/2013. The 90-day period included 123 broken records for maximum temperatures, heat waves, floods, and daily rainfall amounts. “The summer of 2012/2013 was Australia’s hottest summer since records began in 1910,” the report stated. The Angry Summer brought the highest area-averaged maximum temperature in Australia: 40.30°C (104.54°F). The summer also brought the longest stretch of high temperatures: for seven straight days (January 2–8), the average daily maximum temperature for the entire continent exceeded 39°C (102.2°F). This broke the previous record of four straight days above 39°C.

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The report also made a starker point: “There have only been 21 days in 102 years where the average maximum temperature across Australia has exceeded 39°C; eight of these days happened this summer.”

High temperatures exacerbate fire danger, and the Australian summer of 2012/2013 brought major bushfires in New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania. Based on air temperature, humidity, drought, and wind speed, Australia’s forest fire danger index has historically used a scale from 1 to 100 to gauge the danger of bushfires. Starting in 2009, the index added a new fire danger rating above 100, termed “catastrophic,” reflecting a new fire-danger regime.

While some parts of Australia were on fire, other parts were under water. The Climate Commission discussed heavy rainfall, including torrential rains from cyclone Oswald that flooded parts of the Queensland coast in January 2013. The report stated that parts of the east coast broke rainfall records for the entire month in just the seven days of the storm. The report linked recent extreme rainfall events in eastern Australia to higher sea surface temperatures, which increase atmospheric water vapor and lead to greater precipitation.

From The Angry Summer, adapted from IPCC 2007.

From The Angry Summer, adapted from IPCC 2007.

The Climate Commission pointed out that Australia’s average temperature has increased by 0.9°C (1.6°F) since 1910, and went on to say that, while that temperature increase might seem small, “When the average temperature shifts, the temperatures at the hot and cold ends (tails) of the temperature range shift too. A small increase in the average temperature creates a much greater likelihood of very hot weather and a much lower likelihood of very cold weather.”

See the full report at http://climatecommission.gov.au/report/the-angry-summer/

5 Responses to “Australia’s Angry Summer”

  1. Eilidh says:

    I LOVE AUSTRALIA!

  2. Mark says:

    It has been a terrible summer with rain not occuring where it is supposed to fall, e.g. Ingham in North Queensland has had one third of its annual rainfall and yet 700km’s south in Bundaberg, they have been washed away.

    Even though Victoria didn’t go wildfire crazy this year, it still had significant wildfires and recorded more days over 30 degrees centigrade than has ever been recorded.

    Tasmania to Victorias south and usually with moderate summers experienced some of the hottest weather ever and Sydney recorded the hottest day ever and then …………

    …… you look at the photo’s of Kulusuk, Greenland and you wonder, you really wonder, if this is manmade, why do we let greed interrupt common sense, why are we doing nothing about it ?

  3. max shean says:

    My father was born in Western NSW Australia in 1895, and i followed in 1938. my observation is that most people have a very short memory about weather. In 1895- 1902 Australia suffered a ravaging drought, more than half of all sheep were lost, and unemployment through the country was critical.
    In 1954 i remember floods that have not been equalled on the coast of NSW. Then in 1970′s i lost a fortune from flood damage in Brisbane. I believe little has changed overall in climates. ALTHOUGH storms seem to have become more violent throughout the world.
    Then i recall that in the early 1970′s thunder storms on the East coast were very dangeroud for flying. I think people ignore what engine drives our planet, and how insignificent changes are. This is a volatile planet, being battered by many aggressive strikes from the sun, and further afield events. I remain in awe of how stable it really is. The past millenium wasn’t the planet we know and love. The probable short time we will inhabit the blue marble won’t bother it, and who knows what might wipe out all life. Never mind, the cockroaches will be last out.

  4. Takver says:

    It is proving to be an angry Australian autumn as well with an extended heatwave over the southeast of the continent with several temperature extent records falling in March.