Hot down under, and up over

Australia started this new year with the worst heat wave they have ever experienced. It is notable not just for its high temperatures, but for its extent — both geographic and temporal. This heat wave affected nearly the entire country, pushing the continent-wide temperature record to a new high of 40.33°C (104.6°F) — and that’s the average for the entire nation. It has also endured longer than previous extremes. As scientists from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) have stated publicly

It is not that common for the Australian-average temperature to exceed 39°C for even two days in a row. A run of three days above 39°C has occurred on only three occasions, and a run of four days just once, in 1972.

The current heat wave has seen a sequence of Australian temperatures above 39°C of seven days, and above 38°C of 11 days straight.

It isn’t just daily high temperatures, but nighttime lows and daily means that have troubled citizens down under:

The sequence of Australian mean temperature has been just as impressive. As things currently stand, the first two weeks of January 2013 now hold the records for the hottest Australian day on record, the hottest two-day period on record, the hottest three-day period, the hottest four-day period and, well, every sequential-days record stretching from one to 14 days for daily mean temperatures.

Australia has often suffered heat waves, but this one is just … different. The reason, according to scientists from the BoM, is man-made global warming:

… the impact of global warming is clearly observed in a distribution shift of daily weather, as well as shifts in monthly and seasonal climate, to higher temperatures. As is now communicated by many climate scientists, the warming planet is loading the climate dice in favour of warmer conditions.

So, while the “cause” of an individual weather event, including heat waves, is always proximally linked to antecedent weather conditions — it is possible to determine the influence of climate change on the frequency of occurrence of such an event. This is expressed by the increased likelihood that these extreme events will occur in comparison with the past, or in comparison with climate modelling scenarios of an unchanging climate

Amid a devastating plague of wildfires and heat that can only be called oppressive, Australians are beginning to see just how bad things are already. Let’s hope this leads them to reject, resoundingly and emphatically, the failed leadership of politicians like Craig Kelly who respond to a deadly problem by denying the problem. Kelly’s reaction was to bellow about how Sydney hadn’t yet broken their all-time daily high temperature record, and to point to a higher reading taken back in 1790. Not only does this ignore that the heat wave did break the all-Australia temperature record, not only does it belittle the seriousness of its wide area coverage and long duration, it was made yet more foolish when, a few days later, the all-time daily high temperature record in Sydney was broken.

Politicians like Craig Kelly, who respond to climate trouble by denying reality, have got to go. Not just in Australia, but in the U.S. too. And Canada, and England, and every nation on earth.

Especially since not only is it bad already, it’s going to get worse. The reason for the trouble we’re already seeing is global warming. And that’s going to continue. As the scientists from the BoM have said:

Future warming of the climate due to greenhouse gas emissions will very likely lead to further increases in the frequency of unusually hot days and nights and continued declines in unusually cold days and nights.

These changes will result in weather events which are increasingly beyond our prior experiences.

It’s not just important to speak truth to power. When those in power deny truth, it’s high time for us to kick their asses the hell out of office.

I suggest Australians start with Craig Kelly. As for Americans, it’s not too soon to begin an all-out assault to remove Senator James Inhofe from office. When it comes to the global warming problem, Inhofe is public enemy #1. He comes up for re-election in 2014, and there is no excuse for allowing such a blatant denier to continue to represent any part of the U.S.A. Inhofe has done everything he could to make our world too hot for the rest of us. Let’s make it too hot for him.

31 responses to “Hot down under, and up over

  1. Sceptical Wombat

    Craig Kelly is a problem, but he is not the worst.

    Warren Truss, our potential deputy prime minister claimed during the fires that it would be drawing a long bow to associate them with global warming and ventured the opinion that the Tasmanian bush fires had probably put more CO2 into the atmosphere in a couple of days then coal burning power stations did in a decade (a more realistic estimate would be coal burning emissions for two days and that is not allowing for the fact that the grass will grow back whereas the coal will not)

    The leader of the opposition Tony Abbot is on record as saying that climate change is bullshit, though it should be admitted that what he says depends on the audience to which he is speaking.

    The less said about Barnaby Joyce the better.

    The sad fact is that the major reason the Liberal (read conservative) Party changed its leader was that the previous leader was (and is) a firm believer in the reality of climate change and the need to do something about it.

    So, as in the US and Canada, but thankfully not in the UK (so far) the conservative parties in Australia have put themselves firmly in the “nothing to worry about” camp.

    • Actually, it looks like there is a large and influential set of denialists in the UK conservative party (not least George Osbourne the chancellor). They are just more British about it.

      Not helped by the apparent correlation between Arctic sea ice disintegration and a series of wet summers/cold winters in the UK.

    • “So, as in the US and Canada,,,”

      Not quite. Despite what I suspect the private thoughts of many in the Canadian cabinet to be, it is not politic for the Conservatives to come right out a deny climate change–not that that ameliorates their actions WRT, say, the oilsands any.

  2. Alas, I am not sure how realistic it is to unseat Inhofe. Inhofe’s closest Senate election was a 15 point differential and Oklahoma is a solid red state. Or, as Wikipedia puts it, “A strongly conservative state located in the Bible Belt where evangelical Christianity plays a large role, Oklahoma has swung and trended more to the Republicans in recent years than any other state.” Romney carried the state 67% to 33% this year and McCain did only a tiny bit worse than that in 2008 (65.6% of the vote) with not even one county going for Obama (,_2008 )

    I agree that there is no excuse for having such an idiot in the Senate…but, alas, that is probably who the good folks from Oklahoma are going to send our way. They apparently just don’t know any better.

    • David B. Benson

      Too bad they don’t pay attention to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey:

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      The trick, in the American system, is to put pressure through his party. Make it known — and yes, this is a Republicans’ and Republican supporters’ job — that a party featuring such candidates has no place in a functioning democracy and cannot be taken seriously.

    • Sneering at the good folks from Oklahoma is not a helpful way to canvass against Imhofe. Evangelical Christians know a thing or two about mobilizing voters against politicians they think are anti-life, and global warming is pretty anti-life. When evangelical Christians get it – and a bunch of them do – they sometimes take helpful action (see e.g.

  3. The all time Sydney record was not just broken, but shattered. Kelly quoted a figure of 42.8 C as the highest every recorded in Sydney near Observatory Hill. The new Sydney record is 45.8 C, a full three degrees warmer.

    Never-the-less, it should be born in mind that the Australian Mean Maximum temperature record broken on Tuesday the 8th is only the record since 1910. There have been very hot days prior to that. In period, January 6th to 18th 1896, 40 degree plus heat was experienced across significant parts of the Southern half of the continent. This information should not be treated with the credulity shown by Jonova (at whose website it is collated). To start with, it is not known what was happening in the northern half because, for the most part, temperature records do not exist. Further, there is good reason to think the figures are inflated by several degrees. But it is certainly possible that the Australian Mean Maximum Temperature exceeded 40 degrees on some days in that period.

    It is safe to say that over the last few weeks, Australian maximum temperatures have approached the limit of natural variability; but it cannot be said with confidence that they have exceeded them. Deniers should take no comfort from that, however. It is difficult if not impossible to explain why that limit has been approached and possibly exceeded again and again since 2010 without invoking global warming.

    (Warming: Jonova’s is one of the worst denier websites around, struggling, if anything, even to maintain the intellectual standards of WuttsUpWithThat. Read articles and comments there at risk to your IQ.)

    • I think that the previous Sydney record was 45.3, so the new record of 45.8 is only 0.5 degree higher.

    • Lars Karlsson

      Warning: JoNova is also the author of the Skeptic’s handbook I and II. Book I is really bad, and book II is abysmal.

    • Itsnotnova runs the site and you will find useful corrections to some of the ‘information’ presented at Jonova’s site. In this case of the redacted early temp records in Australia:

      “But as usual, Nova is ill-informed. People have looked at the difference between older equipment and modern Stevenson Screen and the reason for discarding old data is because of the warming bias and unreliable results of the older data.

      The modern Stevenson Screens were phased in between 1880 and 1910, prior to that Greenwich or Glaisher stands were used and they recorded a hotter maximum temperature than today’s equipment.

      Over the course of a year this could mean an average of 1.4 degrees in Summer and 0.2 degrees in Winter. But that’s an average, on a daily basis the difference would be even greater, thus “record maximums” on Greenwich or Glaisher stands are not directly comparable to those of Stevenson stands.”


  4. The start of a series and file on all Australian politicians

  5. reasonablemadness

    @Tom Curtis:
    > It is safe to say that over the last few weeks, Australian maximum
    > temperatures have approached the limit of natural variability; but it cannot
    > be said with confidence that they have exceeded them.

    The main point is not if the temperatures have “exceed natural variability”. If you wait long enough, you also get very high temperature peaks in a stationary climate. The point is, that because of global warming, the distribution of those temperatures is shifted to the higher end, which means, that those high temperatures occur more often.

    It doesn’t matter much, if a drought has reached 41°C or 42°C. That is, as said before, not the main problem. The problem you run into is, that those droughts will occur more often, may last longer, etc… That is much more problematic and that can already be attributed to global warming, because the climate dice are loaded and are getting more loaded with further warming.

    • In the case of the Amazon rainforest, they had two hundred year droughts in five years. Much less recovery in that amount of time than what scientists expected. And while it isn’t drought, within the span of about fifteen years, Iowa (Hansen and I both grew up there, and my family still lives there) has experienced three five hundred” year floods.

      • Horatio Algeranon

        “The Meet evil Watering period”
        — by Horatio Algeranon

        We’ve had no Flood
        Like Noah’s here
        In thousands of years
        So calm your fear

      • Horatio Algeranon

        The recent floods
        Don’t stand alone
        Like hockey sticks
        They’re overblown

      • I did a little more digging, looking up the information on the Iowa century floods. 1993, 2008 and 2011. But that is actually the small story. For the Mississippi Valley 1993 and 2011 were 500 year floods. And in 2012-2013 the drought is so bad they are scraping the bottom of the river just to get the barges through.

        Welcome to the new normal. But don’t get too comfortable. This will look like a picnic a few decades from now.

  6. And, like clockwork (orange….) the shills over at WUWT have their collective knockers in a knot, over all this…. this….. this REALITY. It’s going to be *velllly* interestink, as that reality continues to bite the misinformers in those knicker-coated derrieres.

  7. “is always proximally linked to antecedent weather conditions”
    Agreed – but that is just plain lousy wording for a communique aimed at the PUBLIC

    [Response: I’m gonna agree with you on this one.]

  8. As someone who cycled home in hilly Sydney in temperatures of 46 degrees a week ago, I am going to have to disagree. It cannot “only be described as oppressive”. “Furnace-like” or “scorching” are more accurate descriptions.

    • One time, while trapped in Palm Springs, CA, I suffered through 2 days of 127F heat (52.8C); it was ~2% humidity. I could barely WALK, and to think of 46C with Sydney’s humdity? I’d be DEAD.

    • I walked to the railway station after work just before the cool change came through, a couple of hours after the 45C peak in my part of the city, and the wind it felt like a hair dryer blowing in my face. By the time I got home it was only 38 (just over 100F) and it felt like winter.

  9. It is interesting that those who deny man-made global warming will inevitably dismiss these findings of BOM because it is just another organisation that is government funded (grants, public purse, etc, you know the line). And yet those deniers are also sure to be arguing natural variability and referring to things like ENSO to explain away global warming. Guess who does fantastic work on ENSO and is providing all the data? BOM. These people do science whether it is convenient or inconvenient.

    • Yes. Had a controversialist I used to lock horns with who was dogmatically opposed to all climate models, which he would call ‘unvalidated playstations.’ Yet there was a whole series of exchanges around high Arctic temps as revealed (or not) by the Danish Met (DMI) daily graph.

      (It’s here, if you haven’t seen it:

      He was convinced that it showed that the ice couldn’t possibly be melting to any unusual extent, but was unaware that the DMI numbers are based upon a ‘re-analysis’–ie., they are modeled, not directly measured (though the model is driven by assimilated observations.) When informed of this, his response, essentially, was “Oh, but DMI is different.”

      The prevalence of this kind of ‘thought’ on the denialist side is, for me, a strong persuasive factor in evaluating just what is true and what isn’t.

  10. Michael Brown

    A number of deniers have latched onto 19th and 18th century records when discussing the recent Australian heatwave. However, all the 18th century and many/most of the 19th century measurements were taken with thermometers without Stevenson screens. This resulted in measurements that were biased high.

    There is a certain irony that climate change deniers are not questioning the 18th and 19th century data, when they often question the quality of more recent data. [Response: Ya think?]

    An example of the problems with the 19th century data comes from “Thirsty Country” by Asa Wahlquist (page 51);

    Since 1910 Australian temperature readings have all been measured by a thermometer in a Stevenson screen. The Stevenson screen is a double-louvred wooden box that allows air flow but prevents the sun shining directly on the thermometer. If it did, it would be measuring the temperature of the glass of the thermometer, not the air temperature. The box must be 1.2 to two metres above the ground on an area of grass of at least sixteen square metres, and not overshadowed by trees or buildings.

    For over a century the Queensland town of Cloncurry claimed the Australian record temperature. A temperature of 53.1 degrees C was recorded there on January 16, 1889.

    While climatologist Blair Trewin was investigating trends in temperature extremes and their changes, he found statistical evidence that the Cloncurry thermometer was over-reading by about five degrees. Dr Trewin knew it was not recorded in an Stevenson screen – documents showed that arrived three weeks after the record was set. A study of annual reports revealed the temperature was in fact recorded in a beer crate.

    Dr Trewin said ‘we have devoted a great deal of effort to trying to assess what sort of climate changes have taken place in Australia. To be able to do that properly, we have to know we are comparing like with like.’

  11. Michael Brown

    Another example of a 19th century temperature reading in Australia comes from explorer Charles Sturt. This has been quoted a fair bit around the denialsphere. Not sure about the details of the “box” but I doubt “the fork of a tree” is comparable to a Stevenson screen.

    The following is from

    At noon I took a thermometer, graduated to 127 degrees, out of my box, and observed that the mercury was up to 125 degrees. Thinking that it had been unduly influenced, I put it in the fork of a tree close to me, sheltered alike from the wind and the sun. In this position I went to examine it about an hour afterwards, when I found that the mercury had risen to the top of the instrument, and that its further expansion had burst the bulb, a circumstance that I believe no traveller has ever before had to record.

    • Not sure of the veracity of all that, re: Sturt’s observations and equipment accuracy, but be that as it may, I have been in 127F temperatures: I was stuck in Palm Springs, CA, after a breakdown in the Great American Race, in 1986. I had *never* before been in temps above 105F and was simply astonished the difference those few degrees make! I liken it to the feeling of when you open the oven, and that hot *blast* nails you in the face: that is how it felt ALL OVER. It is a debilitating temperature, one that, as you walk along in it, you swear you are losing height!

      • Perth’s hottest temp was around 45C. I road a bicycle in this, and rolling fast downhill was actually hotter than pedalling on the flat, because the downhill the hot air was blasting you harder.

        I dread to think how temperatures approaching 50C would feel.