THE BLOG
01/08/2013 02:34 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2013

Big Aussie Heat: Down Under Sweltering

Some might say that those 'Down Under' have a competitive streak with Americans -- great allies but truly ecstatic when an Aussie beats an American at the Olympics. At times, however, competition can go too far. 2496 Fire Cloud And, such is the case with the #BigAussieHeat. After the United States set massive numbers of high temperature records in 2012 (w/zero all-time lows in lower 48), with a massive summer heat wave notable in the hottest year in recorded U.S. history, it seems that Australia is on the path to top America's nightmarish heat wave conditions with environmental conditions.

Consider:

  • For a week, the average daily national high temperature has topped 39°C (for the metrically-illiterate among us, above 102°F). Remember, this is not Kuwait we're talking about but an entire continent.
  • Never before in recorded history has Australia experienced 5 consecutive days of national-average maximum temperatures above 39C. Until 2013 ...
  • For context, the previous record of four days occurred once only (1973) and 3 days has occurred only twice (1972,2002).

The general description of conditions down under? Catastrophic.

Australia's prime minister -- who fought for (and won) climate pricing at great political risk -- had this to say the other day:

And while you would not put any one event down to climate change... we do know that over time as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events.

Gillard said this (see video at link) as she toured a burnt out school. Walking through the remains of the Dunalley primary school, she said people in NSW needed to be prepared for scorching temperatures, with some fires already burning.

"Everyone can remember what their school was like, how they saw their kids grow. This is a devastating scene," she said of the twisted roofing iron and scorched earth.

(p.s. This, however, is somewhat a sad 'joke' -- as 'hot' is relative and there are likely few 'cold water' taps that will produce a large flow of hot water... still, gallows humor often has an element of truth to it...)

For data about how Down Under entered 2013 with #BigAussieHeat, see this Australian National Meteorological Service report (pdf): SPECIAL CLIMATE STATEMENT 43 Extreme January Heat:

Large parts of central and southern Australia are currently under the influence
of a persistent and widespread heatwave event. This event is ongoing with
further significant records likely to be set.

Updated as of January 7, this report provides background on this severe heat wave and lists out new high temperature records ...

By 4 January the high pressure system had moved off eastern Australia,
with northerly winds directing very hot air into southeast Australia, while southerly winds eased temperatures in WA. Hobart experienced a minimum temperature of 23.4° C on the 4th (its hottest January night on record), followed by a maximum of 41.8° C (its hottest maximum temperature on record for any month in 130 years of records) and the highest temperature observed anywhere in southern Tasmania.

The area of intense heat moved northeast on the 5th as the high pressure system, now centred over the Tasman Sea, and a low pressure trough directed hot northerly winds into the Riverina and western NSW. Areas affected recorded temperatures well in excess of 40° C, with Marree in SA recording 48.4° C, Yarrawonga in VIC recording 45.7° C and Hay in NSW recording 47.7° C, breaking its annual daytime temperature record.

The average high temperature in Australia on January 6, 2013? 39.7° C (above 103° F).

And, on the 7th? Australia set a new national average maximum of 40.33° "smashing through the old record."

As per The New Scientist:

Australia is baking in a record-breaking "dome of heat," threatening to unleash the worst firestorms since those that claimed hundreds of lives in 2009. Temperatures reached almost 48° C on Monday at the Oodnadatta airport in South Australia, and 43° C on Tuesday in Sydney. The typical January high is 37.7° C at Oodnadatta. The average across the country is tipped to break the previous record of 40.17° C in 1976.

"It's likely to just beat it," Karl Braganza of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology told The Age newspaper on Monday. "It's just an extensive dome of heat over the continent."

Here is an interesting thing to consider climate reality and the nature of climate change. This heat wave is literally off the charts that used to exist. According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

The Bureau of Meteorology's interactive weather forecasting chart has added new colors -- deep purple and pink -- to extend its previous temperature range that had been capped at 50 degrees.

The range now extends to 54 degrees -- well above the all-time record temperature of 50.7 degrees reached on January 2, 1960 at Oodnadatta Airport in South Australia -- and, perhaps worringly, the forecast outlook is starting to deploy the new colors.

"The scale has just been increased today and I would anticipate it is because the forecast coming from the bureau's model is showing temperatures in excess of 50 degrees," David Jones, head of the bureau's climate monitoring and prediction unit, said.

While recent days have seen Australian temperature maps displaying maximums ranging from 40 degrees to 48 degrees -- depicted in the color scheme as burnt orange to black -- both Sunday and Monday are now showing regions likely to hit 50 degrees or more, colored purple.

Clicking on the prediction for 5pm AEDT next Monday, a Tasmania-sized deep purple opens up over South Australia -- implying 50 degrees or above.

Forget "Code Red Days," much of Down Under is now facing what could be referred to as "Code Purple."

Amid the general U.S. focus on the fiscal cliff molehill with minimal attention to the climate cliff fissure, the #BigAussieHeat is going unnoticed by many in the United States. After all, it is winter and we're sitting in front of fires, snow proves global warming doesn't exist. Even in Australia, media is missing the climate in the heatwave story:

As Australia stares at "a once-in-20 or 30-year heatwave," with temperatures over 40 degrees, it is likely that more extreme weather events similar to this are in store for us. The probability of this occurring is well researched...

Australia's media largely fails to link climate change to the heat. There have been more than 800 articles in the last five days covering the heatwave. Fewer than ten of these also discuss "climate change," "greenhouse gas," carbon or "global warming"...

Even with the occasional mention, these articles often obscure the link. Tim Blair's Carbon Kings story in the Daily Telegraph is a good example. It reports on a tweet from Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons:

Peter: Will the politics of carbon tax/climate change alter with this extraordinary, sustained heatwave hitting the southern states?

Tim: It's called summer, Peter, and the carbon tax won't make any difference.

Sadly, the United States isn't unique with its George Wills -- and remember, Rupert Murdoch comes from 'Down Under' and seeks to misinform there as much as he does in the United States.

Thus, an ending note. One way to fight misinformation is to be informed. And, climate change is Global Warming. The #BigAussieHeat Down Under might seem far away but it is a potent statement about the climate reality that we have created ...

Note, as for the fires:

And, for powerful images, see this Guardian set of Tasmanian brush fires

And, Jeff Master's hstoric heat wave brings Australia its hottest average temperature on record.

It's been a summer like no other in the history of Australia, where a sprawling heat wave of historical proportions is entering its second week. The high temperature averaged over Australia was 105° F (40.3° C), eclipsing the previous record of 104° F (40.2° C) set on 21 December 1972. Never before in 103 years of record keeping has a heat wave this intense, wide-spread, and long-lasting affected Australia.