Heatwave update and open letter to the PM

Maximum temperature anomalies (differences from the 1971-2000 average) for 7 February 2009   

Maximum temperature anomalies (differences from the 1971-2000 average) for 7 February 2009

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has released a detailed analysis of the 2009 southern Australian heatwave. Some of the figures presented are staggering, with numerous temperature records smashed. Indeed, a colleague at BOM pointed out just how exceptional this event was:

Given that this was the hottest day on record on top of the driest start to a year on record on top of the longest driest drought on record on top of the hottest drought on record the implications are clear... 

It is clear to me that climate change is now becoming such a strong contributor to these hitherto unimaginable events that the language starts to change from one of “climate change increased the chances of an event” to “without climate change this event could not have occured”.

I couldn’t have said it better. With the shifting climate we are rapidly moving into uncharted territory with unknown return times (but surely already well above what the long-term records might lead us to expect).

My sincere condolences also go out to the people whose family members or friends were killed the shockingly severe bushfires that followed these unprecedented ‘tinderbox’ conditions. I note that BOM will be releasing further updates in due course on the fire weather aspects of the event. 

Some particularly interesting snippets from the BOM report, entitled “SPECIAL CLIMATE STATEMENT 17: The exceptional January-February 2009 heatwave in south-eastern Australia“:

On the morning of 29 January, an exceptional event also occurred in the northern suburbs of Adelaide around 3 a.m. when strong north-westerly winds mixed hot air aloft to the surface. At RAAF Edinburgh, the temperature rose to 41.7°C at 3.04 a.m. Such an event appears to be without known precedent in southern Australia

The January-February 2009 event has now been responsible for seven of the eight highest temperatures on record in Tasmania; a total of eight sites reached 40°C, a mark which had only been reached on 16 previous occasions in the state’s recorded history

On 7 February (Figure 2), the focus of the most extreme heat, which was accompanied by high winds and very low humidity, was in Victoria. An all-time state record was set at Hopetoun, in the state’s north-west, when the temperature reached 48.8°C, exceeding the old record of 47.2°C, set at Mildura in January 19395 by a considerable margin. Seven other sites, in the Wimmera and in the area immediately west of Melbourne, also exceeded the old record, including Avalon Airport (47.9°C), Horsham (47.6°C), Longerenong (47.6°C) and Laverton (47.5°C). The Hopetoun temperature is also believed to be the highest ever recorded in the world so far south. A total of 14 sites exceeded the previous Victorian February record of 46.7°C

Many all-time site records were also set in Victoria on 7 February, including Melbourne (154 years of record), where the temperature reached 46.4°C, far exceeding it’s previous all-time record of 45.6°C set on Black Friday (13 January) 1939. It was also a full 3.2°C above the previous February record, set in 1983. Three of Melbourne’s five hottest days have now occurred during this event. Geelong (47.4) and Wilsons Promontory (42.0) were among long-term sites which broke all-time records which had been set only the previous week. In total, of the 31 currently open sites in Victoria with 30 years or more of data which reported on 7 February, 21 set all-time records, five set February records, and only five failed to set records at all. 7 Record high temperatures for February were set over 87% of Victoria

Both Adelaide and Melbourne set records for the most consecutive days above 43°C. Adelaide’s temperatures were at this level on each of the four days 27-30 January, and Melbourne’s for three days from 28-30 January, breaking the previous records of two at both locations… Adelaide ultimately had nine consecutive days above 35°C; after never having experienced more than eight consecutive days above 35°C before March 2008, it has now happened twice within twelve months

Melbourne had no measurable rain from 4 January to 7 February, the equal second-longest dry spell on record for the city (35 days). This approaches the record of 40 days set in 1954-55. Melbourne (0.8 mm) had its second-driest January on record, and with only 2.2 mm to 8 February has now experienced its driest start to a year on record


Second, Dr Andrew Glikson has written an open letter to the Prime Minister, once again reiterating the urgency of the climate emergency. I have to ask (rhetorically I suppose), what will it take for the politicians to switch modes, from the awfully clichéd “Climate change is happening, but let’s move slowing in doing anything meaningful about it so as to protect X, Y and Z [insert your favourite short-term political issue]” to the realistic “This is an emergency!”. I dunno. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take too many more disasters, such as this heatwave and its manifold consequences, or the crossing of Earth system tipping points such as the Arctic sea ice loss, to trigger the full-scale ‘war footing’ that is now so desperately required.


Dear Hon Kevin Rudd, MP, Prime Minister of Australia


In his letter to you of 27 March, 2008, Professor James Hansen, leading US climate scientist and chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Research (http://www.aussmc.org.au/Hansen_letter_to_Rudd.php), wrote, among other:

Global climate is near critical tipping points that could lead to loss of all summer sea ice in the Arctic with detrimental effects on wildlife, initiation of ice sheet disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland with progressive, unstoppable global sea level rise, shifting of climatic zones with extermination of many animal and plant species, reduction of freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people, and a more intense hydrologic cycle with stronger droughts and forest fires, but also heavier rains and floods, and stronger storms driven by latent heat, including tropical storms, tornados and thunderstorms

Since this letter was written new research demonstrates the Earth’s atmosphere is more vulnerable to the rise in trace greenhouse gases, which regulate its temperatures, than we wish to believe, and that such rises in the past resulted in extreme shifts in the state of the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere, triggering mass extinction of species. Examples of some of these papers:





The new findings indicate that targets considered in the Garnaut Review, namely 450 ppm or 550 ppm CO2, can not be sustained. This is because carbon cycle feedbacks, including looming methane emissions, and the dynamics of ice/warming melt water interactions, threaten runaway warming leading toward tipping points, as occurred repeatedly in the past.

Current atmospheric CO2 levels (387 ppm) are already in the danger zone, while carbon gas emissions proceed at high rates (2.2 ppm in 2007; 1.8 ppm in 2008). It emerges that, unless simultaneous efforts are made to sharply cut carbon emissions and develop the technology for down-draw of atmospheric CO2, the future of our young and future generations looks grim.

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets formed under atmospheric conditions at, or below, 450 parts per million, which continued emissions and feedbacks will reach within a couple of decades, leading to temperature increases above 2 degrees C, advanced ice melt and metres-scale sea level rise.

Large mammals can hardly exist on land on an ice-free Earth, nor can human civilization survive such conditions.

In the wake of your election commitment to evidence-based policies (http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=8049) you were given a historic opportunity to lead the world by example in relation to what you have correctly described as the great moral challenge of our generation (http://www.alp.org.au/labortv/uKTHPU1yia), through conversion of a coal-intensive highest per-capita carbon-emitting economy into an alternative energy-based system.

This could tilt the scales in an increasingly desperate global effort to avert what has been recently described by John Holdren, Obama’s new chief science advisor, as the global climate disruption (http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/holdren_global_climate_disruption/)

Less than one year elapsed since Hansen’s letter was sent, and while isolated weather events are not necessarily related to climate change, a dangerous trend has developed consistent with projections of atmospheric science, relegating southern Australia to droughts and fire and the north to intense cyclones and floods.

Given the gravity of the matter, I suggest you consider to urgently convene a climate summit, where your government can listen to reports of severe climate disruption around the globe and in Australia, and to what the science says regarding future generations your government was entrusted to protect.

Honorable Prime Minister, as communicated by James Hansen, your leadership is required (http://www.aussmc.org.au/ Hansen_letter_to_ Rudd.php). I hope this will happen in the spirit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/ religionreport/stories/ 2006/1755084.htm).

Yours faithfully

(Dr) Andrew Glikson

Earth and paleo-climate scientist

Australian National University

9 February, 2009

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  1. Thank you Andrew Glikson,

    Many other people who have a good understanding of what is at risk have as yet not been seen to step outside their comfort zone (in order to speak up).

    If things are as desperate as many believe them to be, I’m expecting thousands(rather than hundreds) of eminent scientist to leave decisions makers in no doubt as their understanding.

  2. Two updates:

    1. A radio interview of me by Radio Ecoshock Canada (11 minutes) – on climate change, heatwaves and fire risk:

    2. An excellent piece in the The Age:

    To quote: “…[the government] has made the usual token allocations to climate change mitigation, allocations that will in no way deflect the coming holocaust.

  3. Barry, I think Freya Matthews piece in The Age is not sufficiently focused. After a promising start in defining the new climate paradigm and reference to 2002-3 fires, resort to dramatic imagery, political positioning and loose speculation about cool changes ,their frequency and effects allows alarmisim to dominate substance. References to “coming holocausts” are not helpful. I know space is limited, but more hard science should have been in the mix, and “the scientists” should have been given names and affiliations,rather than being offered as remote authority figures. The public is long overdue some real guts on this issue via the MSM.

  4. Its hard to decide what is best to do, for the sake of the future, grab the politicians now or wait a few months in deference to what has happened to people in Victoria

    Meanwhile over on the denialist websites they are blaming the fires on the regime for reducing fuel loads in forested areas. They never stop dancing.

  5. Pingback: Open letter to PM on Climate Change « Blogocrats

  6. Barry, you’ve been given a nice plug by Joe Romm of Climate Progress. I see that CP is already in your blog roll, but IMHO there’s value in an active networking effort since your style and content mesh well with his and he has huge traffic.

  7. Errata for Andrew: It’s Goddard Institute for Space *Studies*, his title is Director (probably a better descriptor than “chief scientist,” especially since you already described him as a leading climate scientist), and he generally uses Dr. rather than Professor since the latter is more or less by courtesy (from Columbia) and he spends very little time being a professor.

  8. Nick, send her a note. Most reporters appreciate constuctive criticism. Bear in mind that reporters have editors who influence the content and that this story likely was written under more than the usual deadline pressure.

  9. Steve, points taken, but Matthews is a research fellow at a prominent Victorian university.
    I’d like to see some public gloves-off between the Australian Academy of Sciences and the media about the latters unwillingness to give space to real analysis. For instance,News Corporations “The Australian” newspaper has a Climate section which,on inspection of its format and content,is depressingly thin on length,links,cites and content commissioned from researchers.

  10. Sorry, Nick, I missed the note on her affiliation. I thought the piece was good, coming as it did from a non-scientist. The Age should be providing the science focus too, of course. Do they?

    As for The Oz in particular and NewsCorp generally, well, to quote Harry Shearer, “I used to think it was a good thing that Rupert was free to pillage this country as his own. Now I’m not so sure.”

  11. As difficult as it may be, I keep trying to refrain from commenting on any single event or series of events in a single year in connection with climate change, recognising of course that trends are made up by a series of events moving in a direction through time.

    One of my interests is to better link past trends up to the present with the IPCC projections into the future to get a longer-term view of what will happen.

    If we consider the Murray Darling Basin Sustainable Yields project it pretty much stops at 2030 with around 1 degree of climate change. There are however a few charts that are shown on page 26 that relate to climate change in 2070. The charts are presented as relating to a high and a medium climate change scenario but it should be noted that these are both lower than the IPCC A1FI scenario of which we are currently tracking to or above. I think of the A1FI as the disastrous scenario and the higher than A1FI plus scenario that is on the horizon to include more feedback loops as the Disaster Plus scenario.

    Yet even at the optimistic high scenario, the median estimate results in around -45% water in the Southern MDB by 2070 and the extreme dry shows -80% stream flow by 2050. If the report had shown results of the A1FI scenario to 2100 we would see system failure.

    My point however is that we don’t seem to link our past 110 years of data to the next 100 years of projections based on current behaviour to place the future in the right context. If we did, we could do a better job of communicating that where we are headed is bad.

    If BOM 99 year Southern Australia mean temperature anomaly (base 1961-1990) is joined with the current A1FI behaviour to 2100 we can then look across the changes of our recent past and near future at a relevant scale. We would recognise the increasing temperatures across our lifetimes, particularly in the latter part of the 20th Century, noting that this is causing changes that are difficult to cope with. As we move forward to another 2 degrees by 2050 we can see dangerous climate change in comparison with recent changes. As we move forward again to 4 degrees median estimate by 2100 we can see dangerous climate change doubled which is a pretty serious problem considering that some of the risks increase in an exponential manner. At the high end we can see dangerous climate change tripled with potentially 6 degrees. This must serve to heighten the urgency not to keep heading in this direction.

    At twice or three times dangerous climate change towards 2100, the risk of extreme weather events increasing beyond those experienced in Australia’s north east and south in recent weeks should be enough to cause alarm in Australian.

  12. This is also interesting article:


    jumping too much on short term trends (e.g. Arctic ice decline), can be as much damaging as to deny climate change -both claims paralyse the public. So, take home message is: We should talk not about catastrophic climate change, rather than about climate that will kill more people, compared to climate today…

    But then, is not “killing” people a catastrophe? (at least for those people being killed, and relatives?)

  13. Thanks Alexander – I’d be interested to hear the scientific basis for Dr Pope believing that there is little evidence to suggest the Arctic sea ice loss has reached a tipping point. Two experts who are working in this area, Mark Serreze and Jay Zwally, clearly disagree. E.g.,


  14. Human psychology is atuned to linear, gradual, somewhat accelerating or decelerating trajectories, rather than sharp thresholds and tipping points, yet as we know a the introduction of a minute amount of submicroscopic bacteria, with consequent infection, can raise body tempratures by several degrees within minutes.

    It has not downed on most of us that the climate may behave in similar ways. We used to think climate change will take centuries, yet within a few decades, since the mid-1980s, the world has changed.

    There is clear evidence from the last glacial termination of abrupt tipping points where mean temperatures rose by several degrees within a few years, at least over large regions of the Earth:

    High-Resolution Greenland Ice Core Data Show Abrupt Climate Change Happens in
    Few Years. Steffensen et al., 2008, Science Express, 19 June 2008 / Page 1/ 10.1126/science.1157707

    “The last two abrupt warmings at the onset of our present warm interglacial period, interrupted by the Younger Dryas cooling event, are investigated in high temporal resolution from the Greenland NGRIP ice core. The deuterium excess, a proxy of Greenland precipitation moisture source, switches mode within 1-3 years over these transitions and initiates a more gradual change (50 years) of the Greenland air temperature as recorded by water stable isotopes. The onsets of both abrupt Greenland warmings are slightly preceded by decreasing Greenland dust deposition, reflecting wetting of Asian deserts. A northern shift of the ITCZ could be the trigger of these abrupt shifts of northern hemisphere atmospheric
    circulation resulting in 2-4K changes in Greenland moisture source temperature from one year to the next.”

    It appears the sensitivity of the atmosphere to even moderate forcings has been grossly underestimated. Who is going to tell this to our “leaders” and what sort of response can one expect?

    p.s. Perhaps the only good news – Obama’s science advisors and thereby the President of the US are fully aware.

  15. Dear Barry,

    Statements of Mark Serreze and Jay Zwally are probably the core of Dr. Pope (counter)arguement. But I have a tendency to agree with you…

    unfortunately, there is another quite weak (I think) article at Nature’s Climate feedback by Quirin Schiermeier,

    see: http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/2009/02/lessons_from_the_blaze.html

    And one can read:

    “Would the record-breaking European heatwave of 2003 have been as disastrous as it has been? Would Hurricane Katrina have been able to gather such destructive power in a cooler world? The simple answer is: We don’t know.”

    well, I would say: “We know these events were more extreme, but we don’t by HOW MUCH”


  16. I hold out no hope that Rudd will move from the abysmally useless target of 5%.

    Further, if the balance of the world adopts strong targets in Copenhagen later in the year Rudd will regale us with the reasons why that does not trigger his fallback 15% target if the Rest Of the World so acts.

    The Yarra Valley will not repeat for a little time although fire storms will continue to occur changing the vegetation on a landscape scale.

    Denial in its newer forms will continue, society unable to understand adopt effective comprehensive measure in time to avoid a much hotter, and for Austrlaia’s south east in particular, drier world.

    When they finally get how grave it is it is more likely that nothing can be done making it reasonable to do nothing.

  17. I note that the longest previous dry spell in Melbourne was in 1954-55. In the Hunter and the north-west NSW during early 1955 there were some of the biggest floods in those areas history (25 people drowned in Maitland that February). Cairns also received 900mm of rain in that month. With the heavy rain in the Hunter, Mid North Coast and Bourke this year plus the flooding in N Qld, is this just a case of history repeating itself? And 1955 was in a period of relative cooling.

  18. I agree Ian #20, there have been episodes of extreme weather in the past — meaning it is not possible to link a recent extreme event to climate change without better context. Hence my post previous to this when I discussed the probability of TWO such extreme events occurring within the same 12 months in Adelaide (about once in an ice age, or 1 such ‘double event’ every 130,000 years – that’s around 15 times longer than agricultural society has existed). That is also why the quote given at the top of this post is relevant — its the confluence of unusual (extreme) drought and temperature conditions that makes the recent heatwave so telling.

  19. I remember reading many years ago, a theory regarding pressure systems movement and how they have a ‘wave effect pattern’ which causes weather cycles. It was in the context of the Federation drought and predicted another one around the turn of the century (ie now) which would last as long as that one, labelling them 100 year droughts ( I believe there was also a severe drought in the 1790s). The blocking system in the Tasman and a strong monsoonal system in the north caused both the March 08 and February 09 heatwaves in southern Australia, as they did in 1939. Are the air pressure patterns factored into this whole climate scenario?
    It also appears as far as ‘double events’ occur, that this also happened in 1939/40 in Adelaide. The average max temp in Jan 1939 was 33.6 (Jan 09 was 32.0). Then in Mar 1940 the max av temp was 31.3 beating Mar 08 on 30.9. There may have been higher individual temps this time round but the pattern of av temps was higher in 39/40.

  20. True, but the level of fuel was also a factor in this disaster. In Feb, 1851, 5 million hectares were burnt out, almost 1/4 of Victoria. I can’t find temp/humidity records for that time but they must have been extreme as well.

  21. Ian @ 25


    You might like to listen to this – the question about fuel is asked in this interview. It seems that burn-offs would not have stopped fires of this intensity which appeared to be driven from the crowns and embers flung great distances from the firefront. Fire conditions were unprecedented and categorised as catastrophic.
    The scientists fear we will see these horrific fires more frequently,(and more flooding in the north and more heatwave related deaths) therefore we owe it to those who lost their lives in this tragedy and those who may do so in future, to recognise the drivers and act decisively to reduce Co2 emissions and to encourage other countries to do likewise.

  22. The distance between the earth and sun varies between 98.3– 101.7% of its average distance. At its average distance sunlight amounts to about 1365.5 watts/m^2. Being at perihelion, the sun’s intensity is greater of course. However, since intensity varies by the inverse square of the distance, its intensity in January was about 1412.3 watts/m^2. That is a 6.7% increase over where it was just last summer!

    Should we really be that surprised about the recent heatwave?

  23. Gordon, regarding your solar forcing values, that’s just patently false and quite ridiculous — who do you think you are kidding? The difference between the top of the solar cycle and the bottom, as measured by satellite instrumentation, from about 1367 W/m2 to 1365 W/m2 — a difference of 0.15%. Not 6.7% as you wildly speculate.

    Take a look, though who care to distinguish fact from utter nonsense:

  24. Barry, that is as measured from space and what you are now inferring is that both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are receiving the same level of radiance, which is patently false and ridiculous. Irradiances of up to 1500 W/m2 have been measured at ground level under certain climatic conditions.

  25. I was implying that the average total solar irradiance received by the Earth varies by a tiny amount, the eccentricity of the orbit notwithstanding. Yes, the north and south have different insolation at different times of the year — that’s called ‘the seasons’ and has to do with the obliquity (axial tilt), not the eccentricity. Orbital forcing is not changing — or at least, imperceptibly over century time scales.

  26. Perps 25 ‘Unprecedented’? Well, these 2009 fires were catastrophic but hardly ‘unprecedented’ as evidenced by the fires in 1851 (except for numbers that unfortunately died). There have also been two heatwaves, one in 1895/6 and another in 1939, where over 400 died in each. Cyclone Mahini in 1889 killed over 400 people at Bathurst Bay. The longest heatwave in Aus history was Marble Bar around 1924.

  27. Perps 32.
    According to the Melbourne Argus at the time, the temp on 6th Feb, 1851 in Melbourne was 47.2C (117F) with an incredibly strong northerly wind (official temps only go back to 1855). The Launceston Examiner reported that ‘At about four o’clock a dense and murky mist, resembling a combination of smoke and fog, gathered all round the town and completely obscured the sun’ – the smoke from the burning of some 5 million hectares (1/4 of Victoria) had reached Tasmania. Embers from the fire landed on the deck of a ship 30kms out to sea. I’m sure you agree that these conditions were catastrophic, and those fires were at least as bad as 2009 (except for those who died).

  28. Ian – I agree the previous extensive fires were catastrophic. The problem being that the trend is showing that fires of great ferocity are increasing e.g.2003 Canberra, and fires in 2001 and 2005 which were ferocious and burnt out large areas, fortunately uninhabited. The fire we had on Feb 7th came after several broken records – the longest dry start to the year on record, the hottest day on record, after the longest run of days 40 and above on record. Add to that the highest fire intensity warning ever given( around 200) and I think it is safe to say this was “unprecedented”. Certainly people representing the BOM and the CFA agree on this. Don’t forget that SA had two extreme runs of hot weather within 10 months – the likelihood of that occuring being estimated at 1 in 150,000 years by this post of Barry’s
    In this article it is pointed out that the BOM figures show that the midnight temperature in Adelaide on 29th Jan at was over 33 degrees, another record and consistent with the AGW claim that nights would be much warmer.Further, at the RAAF Edinburgh base in SA a temperature of 41.7 degress was recorded at 3.07am o the 29th Jan. – see this posting above and the links to the BOM page listing these events.Now that is “unprecedented” yet within IPPC predictions on the increase in occurence and intensity of hot nights.
    I think you have your head in the sand and unfortunately people who persist in their pseudo scepticism of AGW should feel ashamed that their delaying tactics have brought us to the point where citizens are dying for lack of action – not just those killed by the bushfires but the 200+ who lost their lives in the two heatwaves. So what do they do now? Blame the Greenies!! Unbelievable!

  29. Perps 34 I try to deal with facts so let’s deal with them. In 1850 there was a severe drought in southern Australia (the Murray stopped flowing between Tocumwal and Moama). Temp for Melbourne 47.2C in 1851, higher than the 46.4C in 2009. Hectares burnt out – 2 million in 1851, 1/2 million in 2009. 12 people died out of 100,000 in 1851, 209? out of 6 million in 2009. Intensity – it must have been an intense fire in 1851 for embers to hit boats 30km out to sea. Winds took smoke to northern Tasmania, blackening the sky. We don’t really know all the facts (ie humidity) as official records only date back to 1855. But the weather conditions must have been very similar for these fires to happen. I also believe that Adelaide had two very hot spells within 12 months of each other in 1939 and 1940. So far I haven’t blamed anyone in my posts and am just trying to stick to facts.

  30. Sticking to the facts should reveal that, in fact, the temperatures in the north of Victoria, on 7th Feb 2009 were over 48 degrees – higher than the hottest Melb temp – 46.4 that you choose to quote. And what of the unbelievably hot 41+ degrees OVERNIGHT in Adelaide, and the driest start to a year on record and the longest drought on record etc etc. As to the hot spells in Adelaide in 1939 and 1940 Sorry Ian but you conveniently forget the “facts” when they don’t fit your scenario.

    And for the complete comparison by BOM got to


  31. Morning Perps This report’s findings are based on official records which go back to 1855 so we don’t have all the data for 1851. We know the temp in Melbourne was higher on the 6th Feb 1851 than 7th Feb 2009 so we may assume that northern Vic temps would be at least as high as 2009. We know 10 times as many hectares were burnt out in 1851 than 2009. We know there must have had very little rain as there was a severe drought in 1850 and the Murray was not running in places. We know it must have been intense as embers were deposited 30 kms out to sea and winds blew the smoke to northern Tasmania. Maybe Barry might be able to uncover more data. By the way, some facts about Adelaide. In March 1940 max average 31.3C and min av 18.1C. Mar 2008 average was 30.9C and min av was 17.9C (so Matt Collopy was wrong in his prediction in your 37 article – Mar 1940 still hotter). Also Jan 39 was 33.6C and 20.1C respectively (with two of its highest temps ever) while Jan 2009 was 32C and 17.9C. So 1939/40 in Adelaide has had two closely related hot spells – hotter than this year. Granted that the length of these heatwaves are history breaking but Marble Bar had 160 days of 100F+ in 1924/5, the longest in Australia’s history.

  32. Ian, it is meaningless to introduce Marble Bar into a discussion about the frequency and duration of heatwaves in SE Australia; for five months of the year, the place experiences mean max. temperatures of 39C or more. And October’s mean max.is 37.6C…averages over 200 days per year of temps of 35C or more!

    Barry’s comment at #22 puts the recent events into context.

  33. Fair enough, Nick. I’m just trying to point out that there were fairly extreme events in the past. My example of Adelaide temps in 39/40 (although the time between the two events was 14 months as opposed to 10 months in 08/09) is evidence of this.

  34. Ian @ 38

    You forgot to address the night time temps – 41degrees plus at RAAF Edinburgh at 3am, and several nights in the low 30′s – I would be willing to bet that is unprecedented – and was a correctly predicted phenomena of global warming in the last IPCC report. The BOM report I linked to deems figures like these to be previously unrecorded. I agree with NIck that Barry’s comment at 22 explains the context of recent extreme weather events.

  35. Perps, just check. I know what the weatherzone site states a 41C minimum for Edinburgh but the minimum temp for RAAF Edinburgh on 29th Jan is given as 32.4C on the official BOM website. The av max temps for this station for Jan 09 read as 32.2C and min 16.1C. Despite Barry’s 22 comment re two extreme events within such a close time, I think the Adelaide averages for Jan 39 (considering Adelaide had 2 higher temps than 45.7°C in that month) and Mar 40 as outlined above are also evidence of extreme weather (ie 2 very hot months in consecutive years).

  36. The 41C event in Edinburgh was highly unusual but of short duration, so the minimum temperature reached that night was lower.

    Ian, in the interests of clarity, is the thrust of your argument: (a) that the average temperature in Adelaide or Melbourne has not got hotter over the last 160, or 70 years, or is it that (b) we cannot say, from the current heat waves, that the return time or intensity of extreme events has changed?

  37. Neither. I just like to check that statements regarding unprecedented events can be substantiated. The reason for extreme events is difficult to ascertain and, because these events have happened before, is it natural or CO2 driven. The 1851 fires were an extreme event but we do not have all the relevant data to compare them with 2009 (though some of the data suggest conditions were worse than 2009). The two extreme events you note in post 22 have happened before – once in 39/40 and again in 1906 when Jan had an av max temp of 32.9C followed by Feb with a 33.0C (2 extreme months in a row). Jan 1939 was the third hottest Jan on record (Jan 1908 was hottest) and was followed by Mar 1940 which is the highest Mar av on record. Jan 09 and Mar 08 were both cooler than their 1939/40 counterparts as were their av minimum temps. Granted that the heat wave just experienced was an extreme event but we have had similar events decades before when CO2 levels were below 300ppm – so what do you think caused those to happen?

  38. Ian perhaps the missing item here is ENSO. We know that it was in a La Nina phase in 2008 which would usually bring wetter cooler summers.The worry is that we got those extremes during a La Nina event. I believe, at present, it is in the neutral phase. It will be interesting to see what happens to temperature records when we enter the next El Nino phase. I am not sure whether these systems were well known in 1939/1940 (probably not in 1851 or in the early 1900s) but it may well be that Australia was under the influence of El Nino during those times – temperatures would be extreme if that were the case. Barry – do you know?

  39. See also Stormfax Weather Almanac which lists El Nino and La Nina years from 1900-2009

    So there you go – the previous hot weather events and bushfires you quote definitely happened during El Nino whereas March 2008 and Feb 2009 happened in a La Nina phase.

    The hottest year globally has been 1998 or 2005 depending on whose charts you read – guess what – both in El Nino years

    Heaven help us when we get the next El Nino event!.

  40. The ENSO is, of course, a very important element and a consistent contributor to the weather patterns. It does, however, throw up some anomalies such as 1908 being a La Nina year and Adelaide having its hottest Jan on record that year. I also looked for a pattern regarding heavy rainfall in Nth Queensland and dry, hot weather in Victoria as happened in Jan/Feb this year. In 1939, Cairns had 1647ml in Jan/Feb (1506ml in 2009) so this shows that even in an El Nino year (ie 1939) high rainfall can happen. However, in 1983, another El Nino year, Cairns had below average rain in Jan/Feb (Ash Wed in Victoria) though the next month over 800ml was recorded. However, in both 1939 and 2009 both seemed to be caused by a blocking high in the Tasman accompanied with a strong monsoonal trough which culminated in strong airflow from northern Australia to SE Aus and the blocking of cold fronts from the Southern Ocean (this also seemed the case in Mar 08 causing grief in Adelaide). The Indian Ocean is now believed to play a part. But yes, I do agree the ENSO is at least a fairly consistent driver of the weather. What has caused 12 years of drought in Melbourne could be indicative of CO2 but may also be a hundred year drought driven worse by natural warming which has been occurring since the end of the last mini ice age.

  41. Hey Perps and Ian

    Have a look at this little video I put together based on BOM pictures covering the period from 12:30 27th Jan to 10:30 29th Jan 2009. On thing that stands out is the trough that runs across central Australia to Victoria for the whole period bringing hot desert air with it. This is a weather pattern which has no doubt been repeated throughout history and is not some bizarro event linked to mankinds activities here on earth.

  42. Barry I took the liberty of checking your last statement in post 53 to see if this stands scrutiny. I chose Adelaide (due to your 22 post) and checked the summer temps from 1897/8 – 1908/1909 (Federation drought era) and matched them against 1997/8 – 2008/9 (recent drought era and including 1998 El Nino year and the 2009 summer so I can’t be accused of cherrypicking). They are also exactly 100 years apart. After averaging all the summer temps I found the 1888-1909 was 29.35C and the 1998-2009 was 29.03C. 1906 was the warmest summer of the period surveyed with 6 of the that early era in the top 10. Both Dec and Feb had higher averages in the early era than recently with Jan having a higher average recently. So in this instance, we find average warmer temps 100 years ago. In addition, 1908 had 10 days over 40C – 2009 had 6 days (tied with 1906). 1908 had 15 days over 35C, 2006 12 days, 2009 9 days (2001 had 17 days). In response to your claim in post 22, I still believe the Jan 06 (4th warmest Jan) and Feb 06 (warmest Feb) is a more extreme event than Mar 2008 and Jan 2009. Jan 39 (3rd warmest Jan on record) and Mar 40 (warmest Mar on record) doesn’t quite meet the 12 month requirement, but is still significant within successive years.
    Thanks for your post, Gordon.

  43. Hi Barry

    According to the BOM

    Where possible, each station record in these datasets has been corrected for data “jumps” or artificial discontinuities caused by changes in observation site location, exposure, instrumentation or observation procedure. This involves identifying and correcting data problems using statistical techniques, visual checks and station history information or “metadata”.

    Is the raw (unedited) data available? If so, has anyone graphed it?

  44. Barry I realise temps are warmer now but that illustrates more point. In your post 22 you claim the Mar 08 and Jan 09 as a once in 130,000 year event and imply that warmer temps caused by CC are the culprit. In consecutive months, Jan and Feb 06, the same event happened (even more extreme) and again in Jan 39 and Mar 40. These were times when the av temps were lower. So we have 3 instances in 102 years. The period 1887 – 1908 was also drier than the corresponding period 1997-2008, again in a cooler climate. I maintain that there are many factors which drive weather and climate patterns. These extreme events are more likely to be caused by unusual pressure system patterns coinciding with Pacific and Indian Ocean oscillations and sun activity. Like the cyclone debate as to greater intensity due to CC. The most intense was Mahini at Bathurst Island in 1899 ( a cooler period) which killed over 400 people.
    By the way, your temp graph doesn’t show temps before 1910. The difference between 1897/1908 and 1997/2008 seems only 0.5C from data from West Terrace and Kent Town stations (only talking Adelaide here, not SA).

  45. Gordon Great read. I read something similar some years ago which questions the making of such statements without checking the data to see if they stack up. I remember at school in the 60′s being told by science teachers that a new ice age was coming, and then in the early seventies about how no one would have enough to eat by the turn of the century. Of course, now they say that was not the consensus, it had more to do with aerosols, etc. In 1971, Stephen Schneider said that the CO2 levels would need to rise 800% to increase the world’s temps by 2C. That’s when he was an ‘ice age cometh’ advocate. Now, as an AGW prophet, he says that just doubling the level would increase temps by up to 4C. I use this example to demonstrate that we knew little about climate then and we still don’t know enough to be able to make accurate predictions about what the weather will do.

    Barry Sorry, my first sentence in post 58 should read at the end, ‘my point’, not ‘more point’.

  46. Ian, in Mar 2008 we had 15 consecutive days over 35C. In Jan 2009 we had 9 consecutive days over 35C. In the entire BOM records prior to 2008, there had NEVER been more than 8 consecutive days above 35C (there were 6 x 8 day events). Those two heat waves of record duration is the basis of the 1 in 130,000 year calculation. You are incorrect to say the same event, or more extreme, happened in 1906 or 1939/40. It didn’t.

    The temperature record doesn’t show records going back before 1910 because there are insufficient quality observations prior to that period to estimate a state-wide value.

    I maintain that there are many factors which drive weather and climate patterns.

    Well, of course. So does every climate scientist, so why is this of interest?

    Also, I’m curious as to why you consider a newspaper piece which recycles the discredited meme that scientists predicted an ice age in the 1970s to be a ‘great read’. What is great about it? Where is Schneider’s statement about 800%? What does an “AGW prophet” mean? Why has knowledge of climate got anything to do with predicting what the weather will do?

    Ian, your confused ramblings on this point do you no credit.

  47. Barry Of course it’s a great read because it demonstrates the folly of trying to predict what the climate will do and the consequences of it.
    Here’s the quote and source. ‘We report here on the first results of a calculation in which separate estimates were made of the effects on global temperature of large increases in the amount of CO2 and dust in the atmosphere. It is found that even an increase by a factor of 8 in the amount of CO2, which is highly unlikely in the next several thousand years, will produce an increase in the surface temperature of less than 2 deg. K.’ Schneider S. & Rasool S., “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols – Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate”, Science, vol.173, 9 July 1971, p.138-141. He also says in the same article that ‘….our calculations suggest a decrease in global temperature by as much as 3.5 °C. ‘ ‘An AGW prophet’ is just that – one who tries to predict the future climate and advises others on how to deal with the consequences. See http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Climate/Climate_Impacts/CliImpFrameset.html
    I agree that these events are extreme but they were caused by a strong monsoonal trough driving air from central Australia and a blocking system in the Tasman causing any cool fronts to be diverted south. But if you dismiss out of hand the 4th hottest Jan on record followed immediately by the hottest Feb on record which occurred in 1906, or the 3rd hottest Jan on record (1939) followed the next year by the hottest March on record, because the days were not consecutive (although they had more days over 35C), well, we just have to agree to disagree.
    Sorry that ‘my confused ramblings’ have discredited me. My statement re ‘many factors’ that you seem so upset with is just a leading sentence to introduce the following statements re pressure systems, oscillations, etc. Hope this clears it up.

  48. Ian – what caused “a strong monsoonal trough driving air from Central Australia and a blocking system in the Tasman causing any cool fronts to be diverted south”?
    Has this been implicated in any of your previous examples of extreme hot weather?
    Surely this is an example of systems moving south,(including the tropics) as predicted by the climate scientists.

  49. Ian, that’s a mischievously selective quote from Schneider and Rasool…you should know better. The work is forty years old and involves hypothetical extremes of CO2 or aerosols.

    There is no dispute about the mechanism of SE Australian heatwaves- I don’t think anyone has suggested the Coriolis Effect is going to disappear, atmospheric circulation will reverse or the Australian Plate will up stumps and rejoin Antarctica. This was simply a discussion about an unprecedented sequence of days of a certain value, and none of the periods you present reach those values no matter the nature of the summers past. That is hardly an “out of hand” dismissal; it is a qualitative one.

  50. Perps Yes, the same effect happened in 1939 (and interestingly enough, Cairns had a higher rainfall in Jan/Feb 1939 than the same period this year). I presume this pattern has happened many times as only this pattern can really create these hot conditions (eg Adelaide 1908 – 6 consecutive days over 40C). Also, and this is in the BOM report, many inland Victoria towns had more consecutive maximum temps in 1939 than 2009.
    Nick Nowhere do I dismiss this event ‘out of hand’. I keep saying this is an extreme event. I just try to put things in perspective by giving examples of ‘cooler climes’ where very hot weather has occurred (see above). And as far as the quote goes – Barry seemed to be suggesting that the fire and ice article was ‘discredited’. For whatever reasons, some scientists predicted a longtime cooling period and they were wrong. Schneider did make the CO2 claim and later recanted. In other words, many claims are made which are later found to be wanting and this makes the general populace wary.
    I presume we all want green, sustainable energy – I do. We should be pushing for this because it is the only sensible thing to do. If we hook it onto AGW and CC by making claims that can’t be substantiated, we will lose the support of the people (eg the Hockey Stick temp graph appears flawed but is still touted by IPCC). We can’t afford to let the ‘deniers’ win or even chip away at the edges because because sustainable energy and a cleaner atmosphere are imperative. Don’t make claims that scare and then are found to be wanting – it’s the ammunition the ‘deniers’ need to sink our case. Green energy can be argued on its own merits.

  51. The BOM appear to think that numerous records were set this year


    People following this thread should read this report, from BOM, regarding the 2009 heatwave.
    It is obvious that many records have in fact been broken including some by large margins from the previous records e.g “Adelaide and Melbourne set records for the most consecutive days above 43 degrees” and “Adelaide ultimately had 9 consecutive days above 35C after never having experienced more than 8 consecutive days above 35c before March 2008.It has now happened twice within 12 months”.
    Tasmanian temperatures were exceptional.Seven of Tasmania’s eight highest temperatures on record being recorded in this 2009 heatwave.
    It should be noted that the BOM only uses pre 1910 data if it is known that the instrumentation used was comparable with today’s instruments.

  52. Perps I agree many records were broken and they were extreme but there are other records that remain intact and were extreme in their own right (eg Melbourne – 5 consecutive days of +40.0C in 1908 still beats 2009′s 3 days). Melbourne’s average max temp for Jan 1908 was 31.0 as opposed to Jan 09 of 28.6. In Adelaide in Jan 1908, there were 10 days over 40C (15 over 35C all up) making it the hottest Adelaide Jan ever with an av max of 34.2 as opposed to Jan 09 with 9 days over 35C including 5 over 40C and an av of 32.0C (in other words, Adelaide had twice as many +40C days than Jan 2009). And it appears that Melbourne’s highest temp was in 1851 with a 47.2C on 6 Feb (the day of the most devastating bushfires with 5 million hectares subsequently burnt out – 60,000 in 2009). In Jan 1939, the heatwave spread from Northern NSW to Melbourne with Sydney reaching above 45C (Richmond 47.8C) and Menindee (49.7C) – that heatwave killed 400 people!
    Despite the summer heat waves of 2009 in SE Australia, the summer av max temps for Australia were below average and min av temps didn’t even make the top 10! So there must have been some extreme below av temps in northern Aust to cancel them out.
    (By the way, another example of the blocking high effect was Mar 08.)

  53. Ian – I repeat “Adelaide and Melbourne set records for the most consecutive days above 43 degrees” – it is the extremes that are exceptional and the fact that the extent of the heatwaves are longer consecutive periods. – your “10 days over 40C” and “15 over 35C” are not consecutive days. The figures from 1851 are probably not accurate as the instrumentation used then is not considered comparable with today. We could go on like this but I personally prefer to rely on the BOM information and their assessment of the unusual and unprecedented records set – and that is where I will leave this discussion.

  54. Ian+Perps: Trends are interesting and outliers are interesting, but inferences about trends from outliers are fraught with trouble. The recent heat wave(s) were great for dampening deniers, and perhaps helping politicians to bite the bullet, but don’t have much non-emotive signifance in attributing or demonstrating climate change.

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  56. Although temps have trended upwards over the past 40 years, Adelaide’s average summer temps during the period 1897 to 1908/9 (Federation drought) were higher than the summer period 1997 to 2008/9 (recent drought). Since most of the recent records have been set in the summer months, I have no explanation for this earlier summer period being warmer as CO2 levels were less than 300ppm and the first global warming surge didn’t start until 1910.
    Arguably, Melbourne’s hottest day was on 6th Feb, 1851 with 47.2C. See

    http://home.iprimus.com.au/foo7/fire1851.html (scroll down to Melbourne “Argus” newspaper report)

    Perps The mercury thermometer was invented by Fahrenheit in 1724 and the Melbourne Met Office began official records in 1855 so the thermometer used in 1851 wpuld be reasonably accurate.

  57. Ian – BOM doesn’t agree with you re instrumentation in the pre 1910 era- see 65 above. It is difficult to assess the accuracy of temps from that period as it appears widespread and detailed records were not kept – thus the CO2 level measurements are also in doubt. Anyway we are talking about overall global temperature as trending up not localised.

  58. Perps Although I agree instrumentation and record keeping may not have been to the standard of post 1910, there are also many gaps in records in the past 50 years from many stations. By dismissing pre-1910 data, the BOM can therefore really only look at the past 100 years. So can we now dismiss the Federation drought, the heatwaves of early 1906 and 1908, the heatwave in 1895 which killed +400 people and the lowest intensity cyclone (Mahini) which killed over 400 people in 1899 because records cannot be verified?

    I do agree that temps have trended up over the past 150 years. However that didn’t stop extreme temps and weather happening in the cooler times.

  59. Despite the hot weather over the past 2 months, national average temps have not been exceptional. Jan maximum averages were the 28th lowest in 60 years and min averages were only 16th on record. Feb max av were 22nd highest on record and min 16th on record for Feb. The national 2008/9 summer max averages were below average. The hot southern temps were balanced by the coolest weather in the northern Aust since 1984/1990.
    Perps Have a nice holiday.

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  61. Global Warming legislation just came out of committee. World oil production is now in permanent decline. What oil is left will provide us the only bridge we will have to what comes next. I am asking myself, “Why is the Democratic Party making this a TOLL BRIDGE with the passage of this new tax legislation?”

    The move to change legislative language from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change” confirms Congress’s acknowledgement that the planet is now cooling and that the decline in solar activity is responsible for the “Global Cooling” we are now feeling.

    Dubious? Google “IPCC Global Warming Potential (GWP)” to find the real story on CO2 as an atmospheric trace gas contributing to warming. Oh, by the way, what Prof. Mann’s infamous hockey stick diagram Bristlecone proxy data shows conclusively is that nothing has done more to “GREEN” the planet over the past few decades than moderate sun-driven warming together with elevated levels of CO2, regardless of the source. Increase atmospheric CO2, increase crop and forest production. That’s the bottom line. It’s no accident that commercial greenhouse operators invest heavily in CO2 generators to boost the productivity of their fixed growing facilities.

    Let’s review the arguments.

    Argument: Warming is bad.
    Fact: History shows warming is good. Rome rose to power during the Roman Warm Period. The Medieval Warm Period enabled the Renaissance. The Modern Warm Period gave rise to the US super power.

    Argument: CO2 causes warming.
    Fact: IPCC technical reports give CO2 a GWP of unity (1); lower than most trace gases by several orders of magnitude, particularly water vapor.

    Argument: People release CO2; therefore people are responsible for Global Warming.
    Fact: A review of the carbon cycle shows very clearly humans are responsible for only 3 percent of the CO2 entering our biosphere. How high would fuel Cap&Trade Taxes have to go for you to reduce your carbon fuels usage by 1/3? 2/3? Think about it. The result is in the noise, that is 1 or 2 percent reduction in CO2 production IF everyone on the planet complies.

    Simple Fact: World oil production has been on a plateau for 4 years. That production has now rolled off into permanent decline. Why put a crushing tax on it now? …and why avoid the subject leading up to the vote on this toxic legislation?

  62. Argument: Warming is bad.
    Fact: History shows warming is good. Rome rose to power during the Roman Warm Period. The Medieval Warm Period enabled the Renaissance. The Modern Warm Period gave rise to the US super power.

    Yeck! I wouldn’t go near that one as a benefit for global warming! lol

  63. What a load of nonsense from Barry Brook! Is he trying to rescue some research funding that doesn’t seem so likely with a slump in temperatures?

    Fact: Heatwaves are caused by slow moving or stationery pressure cells directing a stream of warm air. In this instance it was a High off the northern coast of NSW that was pushing warm air into Victoria. (Check the Bureau of Met archive of synoptic charts for the High pressure cell in question.)

    Fact: The recurrence of a strong monsoonal pattern over northern Australia had displaced warm air into the Broken Hill region and this was the air moved pushed south and south easterly into Victoria. The strong monsoon was due to a La Nina. (Check the Bureau of Met website for weather observations for far western NSW, NW Victoria and across to Moomba in South Australia. Also check further north, over the Qld border and you’ll find that temperatures were lower there than around Broken Hill.)

    Hey Barry! Why didn’t you quote from the introduction of that BoM report? You must know the part you (conveniently?) omitted ….The presence of a slow-moving high pressure system in the Tasman Sea, combined with an intense tropical low off the northwest coast of Western Australia and an active monsoon trough, provided the ideal conditions for hot air of tropical origin to be directed over the southern parts of the continent.

    Well Barry? Why didn’t you mention this? Didn’t suit your agenda? I could ask you to show more integrity in future but I suspect that would be to no avail.

  64. Totally agree with your summation, John. I tried to put this point above at post 21 and others.

    Just a few other facts that don’t fit the above article.
    Melbourne’s summer of 2008/9 is often being quoted as the hottest and driest on record. Someone forgot to check 1897/8 which was both a hotter and drier summer than 08/09 –
    and all this was without the benefit of high levels of CO2.

    Barry wrote at reply 49:-

    “….- South Australia’s average temperature has warmed ~1C over the last century’.
    30 year statistics show 1911-40 had an av max temp of 22.1 and min temp of 12.0.
    The average temp for Kent Town (1977-2009) is av max temp 22.2 and av min temp 12.2.

    Hardly 1C degree of warming since then.
    I hope he does better against Ian Plimer tonight in Adelaide.

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