Australia Melts (as Britain Freezes)


A normally shy wild koala ventures onto a house balcony for respite from the heat. Home owners put out a tub of water for him to drink from, and he promptly crawls in to escape 40°C plus temperatures. Photo: ABC

What does climate change look like, when it's not merely the focus of a documentary? Maybe Australia has been putting on a preview performance. A dry run, so the speak.

When you are Australia's second largest city and you only have 33.1% of your possible store of potable water that's kind of worrying. Especially when it's at a 25 year low. Less than a quarter of January's average rainfall fell into Melbourne's catchments last month and a good drenching is not expected for six months.

But also in January the Victorian capital set an all time record of three consecutive days over 43° Celsius (109°F). An impressive climate milestone for a coastal city a long way from the equator. But the records didn't stop there. Oh, no.
One of the dwellings lost in Victorian bushfires. Photo: Greg Cahir via ABC

Melburnians water consumption soared, gulping down a third more than government targets. Bushfires claimed over ten houses in the countryside. Whilst the heatwave was blamed for about 500,000 households and buildings losing power statewide, resulting in mass evacuations within Melbourne's central business district. At one point the entire state lost 10% of its electricity supply. When combined with buckling rail lines, this contributed to 25% of the city's train services being cancelled, on one day alone, stranding thousands of commuters.

As you can imagine it wasn't only temperatures that were getting heated, but tempers as well. And even though Melbourne reached 45.1°C (113°F), only 0.5°C off its hottest day on record, away from the coast it was even hotter. Mildura in the north of the state scored seven days in-a-row of 40°C (104°F) or hotter, apparently a 62 year-old record. Parts of the state were also measuring their hottest January in 60 years. Across the border in NSW, the town of Ivanhoe sweltered in a 47°C (117°F) day.


Adelaide train tracks buckled from heat wave. Photo: ABC.

The South Australia capital, Adelaide, was caught up in the heatwave, as well, recording a record five consecutive days over 40 degrees and night time temps of 36°C (97°C). But only weather historians were rejoicing. Others were fairing much worse, with 19 deaths attributed to the hot weather. (Only last year Adelaide sweated through an unprecedented 15 days of weather above 35 degrees celsius. This was at the time considered a 1-in-3,000 year climatic occurrence. Maybe three thousand years come around quicker these days?)

Perth, the capital of Western Australia, notched up its sixth hottest January on record, while Tasmania, the usually mild island state was not left unscathed either. Tassie broke its hottest day record twice, on consecutive days.

It only reached about 36°C (!) where I was, but an uncontrolled bushfire burned just 7 km (4 miles) from my home, resisting the water bombing from up to 18 helicopters and aircraft for a full two weeks. Thus providing a more personal sense of what it might be like if this country continues to have record breaking weather events.

Australia is oft described as the driest inhabited continent and one most likely to feel the early effects of global warming. The Murray-Darling River system which waters the foodbasket of Australia, as well as providing vital wildlife habitat and human drinking water has been severely stressed for years. The current drought and heat waves continue to take their toil on these live giving river catchments.

Yet as southern Australia fries, northern Australia is succumbing to floods that are also breaking records. The Herbert River region has peaked at its highest level in almost 30 years. This is directly impacting the town of Ingham, who are experiencing their third largest flood on record, receiving more than 400 millimetres (16 inches) of rain in just two days.

The Australian Bureau of Meterology who track all these records note:
"Since the middle of the 20th century, Australian temperatures have, on average, risen by about 1°C with an increase in the frequency of heatwaves and a decrease in the numbers of frosts and cold days. Rainfall patterns have also changed - the northwest has seen an increase in rainfall over the last 50 years while much of eastern Australia and the far southwest have experienced a decline."


Skiing in London. Photo by AFP's Adrian Dennis, via ABC

But it isn't just Australia seeing the effects of climate change first hand. While down under has been melting Britain has been experiencing the opposite. One of the coldest snaps for 18 years, with London and southern England under a blanket of snow. The world's busiest airport, Heathrow, was shut down, all the city's 7,000 buses suspended and most of the underground rail service in disarray. Oh, and apparently there was a total of 1,600 km (1,000 miles) of traffic jamsaround the country. Not due to any terrorist event, but simply more record breaking weather and a changing climate.

Via Independent (and most every Australian news service for the past three weeks!)

More Australian Climate Changerelated posts
- We Win! Australia: The World's Best Carbon Emitters
- A Sunburnt Country's Embarrassment of Energy Riches
- Australia Gives Toyota $35 million to Build Hybrid Camry

Tags: Australia | Drought | United Kingdom

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