Climate: Australian heatwave sets numerous records

Global warming kicks into high gear Down Under

Australian heatwave breaks records.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The New Year is barely a week old, but extreme weather continues, this time in the Southern hemisphere, where parts of Australia reached unprecedented high temperatures, in some cases ranging upward of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. For the sake of comparison, Death Valley reported a reading of 136 degrees way back in July, 1913.

Temperatures during the recent Australian heatwave were so warm that the country’s meteorology bureau added a new color to its temperature-scale map — bright purple, designating readings of warmer than 50 degrees Celsius (129 Fahrenheit). Read the latest update from the bureau here.

If you think I’m kidding, guess again. Here’s part of the statement from the World Meteorological Organization: “Large parts of central and southern Australia are currently under the influence of a persistent and widespread heat wave event, leading to a number of new temperature maximums. The Bureau of Meteorology expects further significant records to be set. The heat wave, which is pushing the limits of previous temperature extremes, has required an adjustment of the scale used to represent forecast temperatures with new colours representing 50-52°C and 52-54°C.”

At about the same time, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center made the formal announcement that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the contiguous 48 states, beating the previous 1998 record by a full degree.

The predictable voices of global warming deniers will once again chime in to say that a single weather event can’t be attributed to climate change and global warming, but just ask yourself, how hot does it have to get?

Yet another sign: The start of the Australian monsoon season was delayed, which exacerbated the heatwave and associated wave of wildfires. And just in the past few weeks, researchers have offered yet more evidence that global warming will significantly delay the onset of monsoonal patterns all around the world.

The recent record highs are the culmination of a long stretch of warm weather, as the country experienced its warmest spring to summer season (September to December), with temperatures running 1.61 degrees Celsius above average. The start of the current heat wave event traces back to late December 2012, and all states and territories have seen unusually hot temperatures with many site records approached or exceeded across southern and central Australia.

The current heatwave event commenced with a build up of extreme heat in the southwest of Western Australia from 25-30 December 2012 as a high in the Bight and a trough near the west coast directed hot easterly winds over the area. Particularly hot conditions were observed on the 30th, with Cape Naturaliste observing 37.7  degrees Celsius, its hottest December day in 56 years of record.

Not only has the heatwave been long-lasting, it’s also covered an exceptionally large area, resulting in a new national average temperature record. Through Jan. 7, the national area-average for each of the first 7 days of 2013 has been in the top 20 hottest days on record, with Jan. 6 the fifth-hottest on record and the first time 6 consecutive days over 39 degrees Celsius has ever been recorded for Australia.



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