If you thought it was a hot summer, you were right. Southern Australia has roasted over the last three months, with capital cities Melbourne and Adelaide breaking records for the number of days above the 40-degree mark.
Moreover, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) says 2013 was a record hot year for Australia and the sizzling temperatures weren’t isolated incidents. The BoM itself was especially busy in 2013, with severe heat, an early start to the bushfire season and several cyclones in the northern tropics.
Since 1908 Melbourne has only experienced an average 1.3 days a year over 40 degrees, but this summer it has already endured seven such days. Likewise Adelaide, which since 1977 has averaged about three days per year above 40 degrees, has sweltered through 13.
Things haven’t been much easier to start 2014, with a serious, widespread drought, long stretches of scorching weather and more devastating fires to keep agency forecasters on their toes.
BoM director Rob Vertessy said the worst of the heat was in south-eastern Australia, but it was still “pretty warm” everywhere else.
“I think you get the picture that there’s a lot going on,” Dr Vertessy said on Monday.
Yes, climate change played a role
Dr Vertessy told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra there was “clear evidence” global warming was impacting on temperature distributions.
He said the world had warmed by around a degree since the beginning of the 20th century, accompanied by a growing frequency of hotter days and lesser cool nights.
There is a real concentration of heat in the latter years of the last decade.
Liberal senator Anne Ruston, who lives in the South Australian town of Renmark, said she was no stranger to hot weather and “it was bloody hot in January”.
But she questioned whether focusing on small periods of time risked prompting “hysterical” claims of record-breaking conditions.
“We always seem to have it (hot weather) sometime, maybe we just had it earlier this year?” she told the estimates hearing.
Dr Vertessy agreed some people could get “carried away and hysterical” about weather records, but assured the senator the agency always looked at long-term trends.
“They actually show quite clearly however that there is a real concentration of heat in the latter years of the last decade,” he said.
The fact that hotter days were occurring more frequently now than in the past century was the “kind of story I think that needs to be told”, he said.