Things that scare me: the “Great Australian Summer”

Worst floods in ten years hit Victoria

Over the past few months we have witnessed extreme weather events around the globe, many of which are now being explicitly linked to climate change.

Michael Tobis at “Only in it for the gold” picks up yet another example of an extreme weather event being linked to climate change:

Jakarta. Indonesia has been experiencing its most extreme weather conditions in recorded history, meteorologists warned on Wednesday as torrential rains continued to pound the capital.

All regions across the archipelago have been experiencing abnormal and often catastrophic weather, an official from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BOK) said.

“We have reached a super-extreme level of weather this year, the first time in our history, and this is much worse than what we experienced back in 1998, when the La Nina caused extreme weather in the country,” Edvin Aldrian warned.

Edvin, who leads the climate change and air quality division at the agency, told the Jakarta Globe that a combination of a heating planet and the La Nina climate cycle were behind the unseasonable downpours.

“The combination of global warming and the La Nina phenomenon makes everything exceed normalcy,” he said, adding that global warming causes higher temperature in sea waters, and La Nina boosts humidity and the likeliness of rains.

Sea temperatures, Edvin said, were also at a level considered normal for Indonesia’s rainy season, not for the dry season. “It is about 28 to 29 [degrees] Celsius now. Normally, for August it should have been around 24 to 26 degrees.”

This follows events in Pakistan, Niger, Russia and the Middle East.

Lets not forget the forest fires in Europe and devastating floods in the US that took place in the early part of the year.

Victoria currently experiencing worst floods in a decade

And now, my very own home state of Victoria is experiencing the worst floods in a decade:

Thousands of Victorians were affected and a damage bill in excess of $10 million looms for insurers after storms and soaking rain lashed the state over the weekend. About 250 homes were affected but more evacuations are expected today and tomorrow, with swollen rivers around Wangaratta, Shepparton, Horsham and Sale yet to reach their peak.

The ABC also reports:

Heavy rainfall across Victoria has caused landslides, flash flooding and the evacuation of homes.

The central and western areas bore the brunt of the heavy rain earlier today, with flash flooding in Ballarat, Maryborough and Bendigo.

Now the state’s north-east is bracing for potential floods, with more than 140 millimetres of rain already recorded at Mount Buffalo.

Keith O’Brien from the SES says crews are keeping a close watch on towns in Victoria’s north-east and may need to evacuate 100 homes in Euroa.

“During the night, with the peak of the flood there, there’s about 100 houses that certainly their properties will be inundated,” he said.

“There’s a risk of floor level inundation and we will be advising them shortly once we’ve managed to track the actual houses on our projection that they may need to consider evacuating before dark.”

SES spokesman Tim Wiebusch says rivers are starting to rise in the north-east and wind gusts of up to 110 kilometres are expected today.

I’m not for a minute suggesting this floods are caused by climate change, however I’d note a worrying trend. We’ve seen a pattern emerge the Northern hemisphere: heavy rains and precipitation events in winter months followed by extreme temperatures in the summer months.

And with those temperatures come fires.

Things that scare me: black days

Thus with 2010 looking like being the the hottest year record, I think we should be deeply concerned about the coming bushfire season.

Less than two years ago almost 180 Victorians died in the Black Saturday bush fires when temperatures reached extremes not seen before. Should we be subjected to a prolonged heatwave I fear it we could witness another catastrophic fire event.

Not just here in Victoria, but in those other parts of Australia vulnerable to fires.

The Adelaide Hills in South Australia, the Blue Mountains around Sydney and the Dandenong and Macedon ranges around Melbourne. Let’s not forget that Tasmania and Canberra – our nations capital – have all experienced horrific fires at some point during the last 50 years.

As noted by the IPCC, with rising temperatures Australia could be subjected to more floods and catastrophic fires;

The climate of the 21st century is virtually certain to be warmer, with changes in extreme events.

Heatwaves and fires are virtually certain to increase in intensity and frequency (high confidence). Floods, landslides, droughts and storm surges are very likely to become more frequent and intense, and snow and frost are very likely to become less frequent (high confidence).

I earnestly hope some advanced planning is taking place.

Perhaps anyone with links to the various volunteer fire fighting agencies could let me know.

Because god help if we’re not planning to throw everything at this seasons fires.   I’m not making predictions about this summer, I simply note the increased risk we’re facing.

The scars of Black Saturday have barely healed: we do not need any more black days.  

7 thoughts on “Things that scare me: the “Great Australian Summer”

  1. We’ve been having a lot of localised flooding through the Adelaide hills – it’s becoming a frequent event to see roads closed by inundation on my way home. In some respects, this freak rain has put me in two minds about the coming bushfire season. Firstly, it’s allowed for a lot of burnbacks in preparation and could lead to greater moisture lowering the risk of bushfire events. On the other hand, such rain as noticeably lead to a lot of growth – it if dries out we’ve got a lot more fuel…

  2. Fred Orth says:

    And it is only going to get worse. Some days, I feel that maybe we have already reached the point of no return. Certainly hope that I am totally wrong.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Lets hope not.

      There are weeks when the steady drumbeat of studies and news confirming AGW becomes dispiriting. Indeed, there are days when I have to take myself away from the debate so as not to feel overwhelmed.

      At the very least I think the conversation really needs to be about adaptation and mitigation. Indeed, I’ve been musing about switching – or at least broadening – the content of this blog to include posts and news on climate change adaptation.

      More news and comments on energy policy, sustainability and the politics of dealing with a changed world.

  3. adelady says:

    Speaking as an old fart, I remember the 1956 Murray River floods. And I’ve been grieved to see nothing remotely like it until now.

    Bear up. It looks as though there’ll be enough water coming down the river to actually – clear the sand from the mouth – we’ll be able stop dredging for the first time in eight years. I’ve always blamed mismanagement, not just farming but all the locks and the rest of it, almost entirely for the river’s problems. But now we have a real live flood again, I see more clearly that enough water is the real, eternal issue.

    My big fear about the flood is that it will let those who are opposing better management delay effective action until we’re stuck in yet another dry period.

    • I agree – when I was working for a related gov dept I saw enough to lose any trust that the authorities knew what they were doing. Too quick, I reckon you’ll find, this issue will take a back seat and everyone will be quick to take as much of the extra water as they can. It maybe the only good flushing of the system we’ll have for the next decade and thus the last chance to save a number of the wetlands along the MDB which rely on periodical inundation. However, will the ecological flows be a priority or the farming regions along the length of the river system?
      Plus, on a twisted note – if the managing bodies do actually give high priority to ecological flows, you should hear the local community noise – the potential for acidic dust in the dry lower lakes, for instance, caused a massive outcry, yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be open anger over, “saving a few bloody trees,” if ecological flows increased and not for the extra water taken for irrigation. Of course, this is due to a lack of understanding, coupled with mismanagement.

  4. Ray says:

    OMG what shall we do!? A September frost has completely flattened the garden, its rained in Spain, and the Mojave desert is experiencing a severe drought…well duh! grab your panties and pull them up around your ears!!

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Gosh Ray, extreme events did happen this summer. Who’d have thunk that – what with the rising temperatures, more moistrue in the atmosphere.

      Australia, Sri Lanka, Brazil and South Africa.

      Just one big co-incidence.

      We’ve had at least six months devestating floods.

      Sure… it’s all fine.

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