Category Archives: 2013 Australian Heatwave

The new normal: Fires come close to Melbourne, fire plume visable from city

Source: The Age

Source: The Age

This is extraordinary:

AT LEAST one home was destroyed and frightened residents and workers fled as a fast-moving fire came close to Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs. 

The grassfire became an out of control blaze, burning more than 2000 hectares as it headed south from Donnybrook towards urban Epping and Campbellfield. 

More than 600 firefighters in 120 trucks came from across Victoria to battle the flames on a hot and gusty day. They were supported by 11 waterbombing aircraft.

You can see the smoke from the city centre, this time-lapse video shows the fire plume:




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Increases in rainfall extremes linked to global warming (reprint)


The flooding in Queensland and New South Wales was a devastating and record breaking. Despite claims that increased rainfall somehow disproves the reality of climate change, such extremes are to be expected in a warming world. Seth Westra of the University of Adelaide has a good article on the topic which I’ve republished below. Note, it originally appeared on The Conversation. – Mike @ WtD

Increases in rainfall extremes linked to global warming

Seth Westra, University of Adelaide

Rainfall extremes are increasing around the world, and the increase is linked to the warming of the atmosphere which has taken place since pre-industrial times. This is the conclusion of a recent study which investigated extreme rainfall trends using data from 8326 weather-recording stations globally, some of which have records spanning more than a hundred years.

Of all the stations analysed, we found that two-thirds showed increasing trends over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries. When we looked at the association between the intensity of rainfall extremes and a record of global mean near-surface atmospheric temperature, rainfall intensity was found to increase at a rate of between 5.9% and 7.7% for each degree, depending on the method of analysis.

This kind of change is precisely what can be expected if one assumes that the intensity of the most extreme rainfall events will scale with the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture. This is well known to increase with temperature at a rate of about 7% per degree.

Looking beyond globally averaged numbers, however, we also found distinct regional differences. The greatest increases occurred in the tropical belt; the smallest in the drier mid-latitudes where you will find most of the world’s deserts. In the higher latitudes, particularly in the northern hemisphere, the rate of change was close to the global average. Again, such changes seemed to be in quite close agreement with what global climate models say should happen as a result of global warming: a reassuring case of observations confirming theory.

The implications of this are likely to be significant for flood risk around the world. It’s true that 7% per degree doesn’t sound like much. But if we continue to follow the current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, we can probably expect in the order of three to five degrees of warming by the end of the 21st century. If the relationship between extreme rainfall and atmospheric temperature continues to hold, then this could mean as much as a 35% increase in extreme rainfall intensity on average globally.

What does this mean for the capacity of our infrastructure to handle current and future floods? Most flood-defence infrastructure, such as dams, levees, stormwater systems and coastal flood defences, has been designed to handle historical flood risk. If the risk of flooding increases, then such infrastructure will have increasing difficulty managing floods in the future. This would either lead to increased damage costs due to the flooding, or necessitate expensive infrastructure upgrades or resettlement of low-lying communities. Even the increase in extreme rainfall intensity observed thus far is likely to lead to substantial challenges for some existing infrastructure.

Nevertheless our analysis should not be interpreted as suggesting that the rapid increase in flood damage which has occurred over the past few decades is entirely attributable to climate change.

In fact, other changes such as deforestation, rapid urbanisation and an increase in the number of people living in flood plains are likely to account for the bulk of these changes. Furthermore, not all floods are caused by extreme rainfall events. Snow melt and storm surge also contribute to overall flood risk. Antecedent moisture – the wetness of the catchment prior to the flood-producing rainfall event – can also have a substantial influence on flood risk. In some parts of Australia this might even cause flood risk to decrease because of an expected increase in the number or severity of future droughts.

Despite all these caveats, our recent study contributes to the debate on how climate change will affect flood risk, by showing that the intensification of rainfall extremes is not just a projection made by climate models. Rather, it can already can be detected in our observational record.

Seth Westra receives funding from the Australian Research Council, CSIRO, Engineers Australia, Geoscience Australia and AusAid.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Video: Climate change and the Queensland floods

Here is Video Dispatch #2 looking at the devastating Queensland floods and their connection to climate change:

The video also explores what Queenslander’s can expect with as the planet warms: climate change is here. We are going to see many more events such as these.

Donations for the flood appeal can be made via the Red Cross. There may come a time when anyone of us will be a victim of these kinds of extremes. Sadly, donations to help the victims of the flood have been critically low:

THE head of Queensland’s flood appeal says donations are so low they won’t go anywhere near helping those who have lost all their possessions. Terry Mackenroth said only $6 million had been raised, including $1 million each from the state and federal governments. ”For the amount of devastation I’ve seen just through watching television, it is not going to go anywhere near paying the sorts of claims we will receive,” he said. ”When someone’s house has been flooded, they probably don’t even have a toothbrush. They’ve lost everything.”

Please donate if can. 

Mike @ WtD

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January 2013: hottest month on record


Hottest month on record, just in case you were wondering…

January 2013 is officially the hottest month on record:

Australia recorded its hottest month on record in January 2013, with both the average mean temperature of 29.68°C and the average mean maximum temperature of 36.92°, surpassing previous records set in January 1932.

The Northern Territory recorded 31.93°C and Queensland 30.75°C, also the hottest mean temperature on record for January for both states. The heatwave in the first half of January was exceptional in its extent and duration. The national average maximum temperature on 7 January was the highest on record. Numerous stations set records for the most days in succession above 40°C, including Alice Springs (17 days) and Birdsville (31 days).

A large number of stations set all-time record high temperatures during the January heatwave, including Sydney (45.8°C on 18 January) and Hobart (41.8°C on 4 January). The highest temperature recorded during the heatwave was at Moomba in South Australia (49.6°C on 12 January). Late January saw extreme rainfall and flooding for coastal areas of Queensland and New South Wales as a low pressure system associated with ex-tropical cyclone Oswald tracked steadily south between 22 and 29 January, before moving out to sea south of Sydney.

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Climate change blamed for Australia’s extreme weather

From New Scientist:

The east coast of Australia has been drenched by floods and torrential rains, even as recent bush fires affecting much of the country continued to burn. Four people are known to have died as Australians get a further taste of extreme weather that is predicted to become more common as the planet warms. 

The deluge came as a storm that started as tropical cyclone Oswald just north of Australia was dragged south over most of the east coast by a low-pressure system extending all the way to New South Wales, says Richard Wardle of the Bureau of Meteorology in Queensland. As it hit land, Oswald lost its cyclone status but remained a “vigorous” storm, Wardle says. 

With no low-pressure zone further east to pull Oswald out to sea, the storm stayed over land, moving slowly south and dumping huge amounts of rain on coastal communities. Bundaberg, a town in Queensland, experienced its worst-ever flood as the storm lingered nearby for nearly 24 hours, leading to the evacuation of 7500 people from their homes. In Brisbane, the floods were almost as bad as those that devastated the city two years ago.


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The New Normal: stunning images taken from space of Bundaberg flooding

Record rainfall in Queensland in and New South Wales has seen widespread devastation; there are reports of missing. Thousands had to be evacuated from the town of Bundaberg. This stunning image of the flood waters pouring into Bundaberg was taken by a NASA astronaut:

Images of Gladstone flooding:

Video: Everything was on fire, everywhere: heat, bush-fires and climate change down under

Yes, the very first WtD video

For some time I’ve been considering making short videos exploring climate change, scepticism and related environment issues. This is the first in the proposed series (I hinted these would be coming in a December post).

The above video explores the link between the Australia’s extraordinary summer of heatwaves and fire. What we are experiencing is what the science predicted.

Most of all I wanted to tell a story: of what it means to be an Australian at this point in history, knowing a little something about the science of climate change and seeing scientific predictions play out. It’s about watching the land burn while the planet warms. 

Comments welcome. 

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Burning eucalyptus: Gippsland fires shroud Victoria in a haze of smoke

Stepping out the front door of my apartment block this morning I immediately took note of a scent familiar to many Australians: the acrid tang of burning eucalypts that invades ones nostrils and tickles the back of the throat.

The streets were shrouded in that familiar, and yet haunting, greyish blue haze.

You know when it’s a big one: hundreds of kilometres away you know what kind of beast it is. Out there, in the east it rages.

Perhaps all mega fires have this same smell, but for me the smell of burning eucalypt forests is a quintessentially Australian experience. Words are barely adequate to capture the scale of these fires.

“Yeah, it’s a big one mate…”

For me it conjures memories of catastrophic fires, when whole towns are wiped out and far too many innocent lives are lost.

Even though I was in my very early teens, I vividly recall the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires.

Those fires came after a prolonged El Niño, record drought and severe heat wave. I remember the dead, brown lawns and the dust storm that presaged Ash Wednesday as it rolled across Melbourne’s suburbs.

Standing in the school yard, playing cricket with mates an unfamiliar rain began to fall: black shoot and fire blackened leaves, carried by the same winds fuelling the firestorm.

Perhaps my memory betrays me, but I recall those charred and partially burnt leaves twirling and spinning, hitting the asphalt like small black daggers.

The current Gippsland fire has burnt more the 59,000 hectares and destroyed homes. At least one person is dead.

And there is that smell: of burning eucalyptus.

Sydney temperature record smashed: 45.7c

Prior to today the highest recorded temperature for Sydney was 45.3.

That record fell a little before 3pm today, the temperature reaching 45.7c.



Sydney hits 45c: breaks the 1790 “record” claimed by LNP sceptic Craig Kelly


Remember LNP member Craig Kelly foolishly claimed on “sceptic” blog Watts up with that that Australia’s record-breaking temperature was not an anomaly? According to Kelly things were hotter back in 1790s:

It’s been a scorcher. With the mercury soaring to 42.3 C in Sydney last week and the city in meltdown, the papers screamed, “This is climate change. It is here. It is real.” Even the taxpayer-funded Climate Commission could not hide their excitement declaring, “it was hotter than before” and that “climate change” was responsible for the “unprecedented” extreme heat Sydneysiders were experiencing… 

For while the mercury peaked at 42.3 C last Tuesday at Observatory Hill in Sydney – more than 222 years ago at 1.00pm on the 27th Dec 1790 (measured at a location just stones-throw from Observatory Hill) the mercury hit 108.5 F (42.5 C) before peaking at 109 F (42.8 C) at 2.20pm. 

Craig – Sydney just hit 44.9c (oops correction its passed 45c).

Heat records are being broken today. The highest recorded temperature for Sydney was actually January 14 1939 when the mercury reached 45.3 at the Observatory Hill station. We’ve just seen the second highest recorded temperature for Sydney.

One hope’s Craig will do a follow-up post for Watts up with that – I’m sure it would make interesting reading.

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