Record-busting heat as climate warming goes extreme

Exreme temperatures across Australia on February 5.
February 10, 2017

Last year was by far the hottest year in the observation record, with the global average surface temperature 1.24° Celcuis warmer than the late nineteenth century, according to NASA data. This broke the record set the previous year of 1.12°C, which in turn broke the previous mark set in 2014 of 1.01°C.

Although the El Nino conditions of 2015–16 had some influence — perhaps 0.2°C — it is clear that the warming trend is 1°C or more.

And now Ben Domensino of Weatherzone reports on a historic spell of hot days and nights gripping parts of central Australia, southern Queensland and New South Wales during the first half of February.

January was the hottest month on record in Sydney and Brisbane. Sydney’s average maximum temperature for January was 29.6°C, beating the previous mark of 29.5°C recorded in 1896. In January Sydney had 11 days over 30°C and five days above 35°C, higher than any previous record for the month since records began in 1858.

January temperatures in Brisbane were almost 2°C above the month’s average. Data released by the Bureau of Meteorology showed Brisbane’s average maximum temperature was 27.2°C, well above the average of 25.4°C and breaking the previous record of 27°C set in 2004.

But February is about to put eastern Australia's record-breaking hot January to shame.

The New South Wales town of Moree has recorded 41 days in a row of temperatures above 35°C, absolutely smashing the previous record from 1981–82 of 17 days.

The south-west Queensland town of Birdsville recorded its hottest ever February day on February 3. That temperature of 46.2°C beat the previous highest temperature of 45.8°C, recorded in 2006. Birdsville’s hottest day on record was 49.5°C on January 24, 1972.

The average maximum for February in Birdsville is 38°C.

The temperature has been more than 43°C every day since January 26 and has only dipped below 40°C on five days this year.

Forecast temperatures in Birdsville of more than 45°C from February 7 to 12 equal the record of six consecutive days over 45 from 2014 and 2004. Overnight minimums during this time are expected to remain above 30°C.

Thargomindah’s run of days above 44°C could reach 10 by February 12, including a few days at 46°C. The previous record run of days above 44°C in the last 138 years was seven, in 2004.

Walgett in northern New South Wales will be a few degrees “cooler” than its northern neighbours, reaching 41–45°C for the same period. This would take its run of days over 40°C degrees to 15 by February 13.

Bourke has exceeded 40°C for 16 days in a row from January 28 to February 12. There is a good chance the 121-year-old record of 22 days above 40°C will be beaten by the middle of this month.

Moomba in South Australia had a run of temperatures between 45-46°C for six days straight from February 7. This is an unprecedented run of hot days for the town, which has data available back to 1972.

These are extraordinary events in an extraordinary year of climate-warming impacts. In the Arctic, the volume of sea-ice during the northern summer of 2016 dipped to 72% below the level 30 years ago.

Mark Serreze, director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, says: “What has happened over the last year (in the Arctic) goes beyond even the extreme.”

And now a new report from another US agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has recommended a revised worst-case sea-level rise scenario of 2.5 metres by 2100, half a metre higher than their previous assessment. The upper limit for sea-level rise is now set at 5.5 metres by 2150 and 9.7 metres by 2200.

It says sea level science has “advanced significantly over the past few years, especially [for] land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica under global warming, and the correspondingly larger range of possible 21st century rise in sea level than previously thought”.

In Greenland, for example, the ice sheet is melting 600% faster than predicted.

 And in Antarctica, Climate Code Red’s recent report shows that no further acceleration in climate change is necessary to trigger the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet on decadal time scales. This alone means Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea-level rise by 2100. A large fraction of West Antarctic basin ice could be gone within two centuries, causing a 3–5 metre sea level rise.

Extreme heat. Extreme melting. Extreme sea level rises in train. This is not the story of future climate change, it is the story of now.

[Reproduced with permission from David Spratt’s Climate Code Red blog.]

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