‘Less of an opportunity to clear the mind,’ is the verdict from Bidyadanga, where winter highs of 33°C were replaced by 36°C as records tumbled across the country
September 18, 2017 — It’s always hot in Bidyadanga but a few degrees can make a big difference in the remote Aboriginal community, about 190km south of Broome in Western Australia.
“It’s always hot – it’s the desert – but the difference between 33°C and 36°C can be quite oppressive,” said Shaun Burgess, a teacher in the community.
This winter, it mattered more than most – 2017 was Australia’s warmest on record for average maximum temperatures, which reached nearly 2°C above the winter average and beat the previous record set in 2009 by 0.3°C, according to a report released by the Climate Council on Tuesday.
In July alone 72 records were broken for the highest maximum temperature, including in Sydney, which set a record high of 26.5°C.
Bidyadanga was one of those 72; on July 27 it reached 36.3°C, the hottest day in Australia’s warmest July. It also broke its previous July record of 35.7°C, set in 2016.
“It’s made it really difficult to do things like go camping or fishing with the students, which is something we’ve done a lot of in previous years,” Burgess said. “There’s been less of an opportunity to clear the mind, less of a reprieve, I guess.”
And the reprieves may be becoming rarer. Australia has set new seasonal highs for maximum temperatures 10 times so far this century and the Climate Council report found that more than 260 heat and low rainfall records were broken between June and August this year.
It was the fifth warmest winter on record for average temperatures, and the driest since 2002. Daytime temperature averages were above average for almost the entire country; more than 90% of Australia was in the highest 10% of historical observations. And as summer approaches, a third of the country is at above average risk from bushfire damage as a result of the hot, dry weather.
“Winter warm spells are lasting longer, occurring more often and becoming more intense,” the report said. “The likelihood of such warm winters occurring will continue to increase as global temperatures rise.”
The report used research by Andrew King, a climate extremes research fellow at the University of Melbourne, to argue that the “exceptionally” warm and dry winter was caused by climate change.
King used computer climate models to compare today’s human-impacted climate with simulations representing an alternative world that excluded human influences.
He found the record winter temperatures were 60 times more likely to have been caused by human-included climate change.
“Another way of putting that is if we hadn’t had climate change at all the chance of getting a winter like this would be much smaller,” he said. “It would be a very, very unlikely event.”
The Climate Council report warns that the increased incidence of runs of hot weather affects the agriculture and energy sectors. As summer approaches, large parts of the country are in increased bushfire danger.
Last week firefighters across Australia’s east coast were tested by record September temperatures as a total fire ban was issued in parts of New South Wales.
“In the south these areas broadly include the Australian Capital Territory, south and east Victoria, eastern NSW, south and central Queensland, and southern and northern regions of South Australia,” it warns.
“Further, the warm and dry winter conditions mean the southern fire season is likely to begin earlier than usual.”
The warmer-than-average temperatures were predicted by the Bureau of Meteorology in its winter outlook published in May.
It stated that, in addition to “natural drivers” such as the El Niño weather pattern, Australia’s climate was “being influenced by the long-term increasing trend in global air and ocean temperatures”.