Climatologist “deeply concerned” heatwave is just the beginning

Michael Weaver 19 December 2019 62
North Black Range fire

The North Black Range fire flares up west of Braidwood on Sunday, 1 December. Photo: Michael Weaver, Region Media.

As Canberra heads into what could be its hottest days on record, a senior climatologist at the Australian National University says she is “deeply concerned” that heatwaves such as the one sweeping Australia this week will become the new norm.

Professor Janette Lindesay from the ANU College of Science has spent her career studying the long-term effects of the climate and said while the current conditions are not the driest on record, the current bushfire threat and heatwaves such as this are a very strong indication of things to come.

“I am deeply concerned about seeing a heatwave like this,” Professor Lindesay told Region Media.

“None of this is unexpected to me. This is what we’ve seen coming for the last decade. It’s happening and it’s obvious that the globe is warming. It’s deeply worrying about what it means for now and the future.”

Professor Lindesay said a heat event like the current one sweeping across Australia is completely natural during the summer months.

“But what we’re seeing and what is unusual is that the temperatures these air masses are reaching are getting higher, and that is because of the underlying trend of global heating.”

Professor Janette Lindesay

Professor Janette Lindesay: “We’re now in uncharted territory where we are seeing temperatures that we’ve not ever had in our records.” Photo: Belinda Pratten

Professor Lindesay said that average temperatures have been rising for “about the last 15 years” and while there have been variations around the average, the average has been getting higher, which also means the fluctuations in temperatures have also been rising.

“So we’re now in uncharted territory where we are seeing temperatures that we’ve not ever had in our records.

“And this is only December and we’re not even into the middle of summer yet. It’s not unheard of to have high temperatures in December of course, but it is definitely unusual to have the temperatures so high so early.”

Temperature anomalies

Australia’s mean temperature anomalies, with the black line showing the moving average. Image: Bureau of Meteorology

Professor Lindesay has analysed Bureau of Meteorology rainfall and temperature records available for the Canberra/Queanbeyan area, which begins in late 1870.

She said in the 148 years of rainfall records, there have been five severe droughts prior to the current one. The most severe (and shortest) occurred between 1979-83. The longest was the Millennium drought from 1996-2008, while the most persistently dry and third-longest was the Federation drought from 1894-1902.

Professor Lindesay said 2019 will be among the warmest years on record for Canberra/Queanbeyan. To the end of 2018, the 10 warmest years on record for NSW and the ACT have occurred since 2005, with six of them since 2013 (2018 was the warmest, while 2017 and 2013 equal second-warmest).

During the 2018-19 bushfire season, there were five total fire bans issued by the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA). On Wednesday (18 December), the ESA issued its sixth total fire ban of the 2019-20 season. It will run for three consecutive days from midnight Wednesday to midnight Saturday (21 December). The first three total fire bans of this season were during November.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook: December 2019 says: “The ACT has received less than average rainfall for nearly three years, leading to a persistent and high level of drought. The lowland forests have been very dry for some time, while highland forests are now dry as well. This indicates that fuel flammability in the forests is high and could remain so. The forest fire risk is elevated. The overall bushfire risk for the ACT is above normal.”

The BOM also said Australia recorded its hottest average maximum temperature across the country of 40.9 degrees celsius on 17 December this week. The previous record of 40.3 was on 7 January, 2013.

The question for climatologist Professor Lindesay is whether the current conditions will continue to get hotter, or whether the current warming trend will begin to subside.

She says all the indications are that temperatures will continue to rise, as will the danger from bushfires.

Professor Lindesay said the landscape hasn’t recovered from the Millennium drought, which officially ended more than 10 years ago. She said the soil has been drying out since at least mid-2017.

“Low rainfall, increasingly high temperatures and high evaporation combined with water [and land] management, plus the resource needs of the growing population, have led to the current situation,” Professor Lindesay said.

“This drought and high temperatures are happening without an El Nino event, making the drought even more noteworthy, since previous severe drought and bushfire seasons were often linked to El Nino events.

“Global heating has increased the likelihood of reduced rainfall and higher temperatures in south-east Australia, regardless of other factors.

“The outlook through to April is for a slightly improved chance of getting some rain, but there are also strong indications of higher than normal temperatures through summer and into autumn, maintaining the bushfire threat and prolonging the bushfire season, and making heatwaves very likely.”

Professor Lindesay said people should no longer be debating whether climate change is real, and should move on to strategies to combat further global warming.

“We’re in a situation where we’ve gone too far to not feel the effects of the damage that we’ve done, but it’s not too late to take effective action to stop it from getting much worse in the future,” Professor Lindesay says.

“And we’re seeing the complete absence of leadership and commitment from the people who are supposedly leading us.”

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62 Responses to Climatologist “deeply concerned” heatwave is just the beginning
Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:10 pm 21 Dec 19

Peter Marshall 3:24 pm 19 Dec 19 said:
Noone reputable has ever declared “permanent drought”.

In 2007 Tim Flannery said “Even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and river systems.”
Flannery is a reputable person, isn’t he?

If that isn’t a good description of a drought I don’t know what is.

Deslie Rosevear Deslie Rosevear 4:30 pm 21 Dec 19

But no one seems to agree with these scientists

Suzanne Milne Suzanne Milne 11:34 am 20 Dec 19

we all enjoy the good times, gave us a great standard of living, now we must payback...we are all responsible....

Rich 'olmes Rich 'olmes 9:04 am 20 Dec 19

Studies taken since the 1800's? And how old is the earth? Pretty small sample size..

Hat Kat Hat Kat 7:59 am 20 Dec 19

If we want Canberra to survive as a city with a changing climate, desalination plants on the coast piping water up will be essential in a few years. The city will be like a desert oasis.

    Brian Innes Brian Innes 7:30 pm 20 Dec 19

    Hat Kat unfortunately as Canberra is so closely associated with Politicians the “if we” may be a small whimper..

    We should look at moving that nations capital to Tassie whilst we can

Marina Aleksic Marina Aleksic 1:03 am 20 Dec 19

Poor animas ,poor people,.....Stop fire ,in winter time kids stay inside home ,in summer time inside ???

Marina Aleksic Marina Aleksic 12:57 am 20 Dec 19

Stop fire

Matthew Soall Matthew Soall 12:52 am 20 Dec 19

It doesn't matter at this point we can't go back. The only real question now is do you have a kid and bring them into a dying world or do you let things end with you. The human race, the first animal that was so smart it killed itself. Got to love the irony.

Nathan Vink Nathan Vink 7:58 pm 19 Dec 19

Michael Weaver. When will your story air?

Christine Kennedy Christine Kennedy 4:32 pm 19 Dec 19

time to emigrate to NZ

    Emily Lander-Clarke Emily Lander-Clarke 12:20 am 20 Dec 19

    Christine Kennedy would be great apart from the earthquakes.

Julie Mylchreest Julie Mylchreest 3:23 pm 19 Dec 19

This country is dying, it's frightening.

Zil Sirgolak Zil Sirgolak 3:18 pm 19 Dec 19

Grew up in Canberra and I can remember the hot summer days, but I cant recall such bushfires like this. Yo, we are the BUSH CAPITAL. Any Canberra'n that hasnt got a bushfire plan, medical supplies, food, water and provisions packed and ready to go in the car, needs to get up and get it done. Hot, highwinds mixed with bone dry bush in just about every sqaure foots is a really bad combination. Its not about wheather you believe this is climate change, and politics can seriously take a hike for a moment. No one is going to save you but you. Be ready. Be safe. Look out for each other. SUMMER is here.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 7:35 pm 19 Dec 19

    And there’s a fire burning in front of Old Parliament House.

    Carl Ostermann Carl Ostermann 8:50 pm 19 Dec 19

    I remember in the seventies, Tuggeranong had fires every year on the mountains

    Frances Jane Frances Jane 7:15 am 20 Dec 19

    Where do you go for refuge? I grew up in the Dandenong Ranges, we'd head to the city, however here in Canberra I'm baffled as to where I should seek refuge in the event of a bush fire.

    Liz Darvill Liz Darvill 3:44 pm 20 Dec 19

    Frances Jane I'm thinking the big shopping centres. I'd head to Belco Mall - have everything packed and by the front door and the best routes

    Frances Jane Frances Jane 4:09 pm 20 Dec 19

    Liz Darvill thanks. I'd thought I'd go to a big mall, so your comment affirms that. Ta. 👍

Tracy Bell Tracy Bell 2:39 pm 19 Dec 19

I think most people were worried this is the new normal

Robbie DeRoo Robbie DeRoo 2:12 pm 19 Dec 19

Education — it matters.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 1:48 pm 19 Dec 19

If the records are available from 1870, why does the Australia’s mean temperature anomalies bar graph only start in 1910? What were the “anomolies” for the 40 years between 1870 and 1910?

    paulmuster paulmuster 10:40 pm 19 Dec 19

    If you read the analysis you will see that they are included in it, despite not being included in the chart (which the author probably pulled off the BOM website)

    If that was your attempt at discrediting, you are going to have to try find something else to cherry pick…

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:30 pm 20 Dec 19

    So, why were’t they included in the chart?

    Pehaps I can “cherry pick” the answer being that the hottest ever temperature recorded was at Bourke NSW for the month of January 1909 and it was 125 degree Fahrenheit recorded on 3rd January.

    paulmuster paulmuster 8:46 pm 21 Dec 19

    Hahahahaha you’ve cracked the conspiracy wide open there mate – expect your nobel prize to arrive in the mail any day now!

    Not that I can be bothered fact checking the evidence which you dont bother citing – but if you really think a single day of weather data (or even month – its not clear what you are trying to present as evidence) can influence the annual weather anomaly then you clearly have zero understanding of how averages work.

    Look at the records being broken in real time. The HOTTEST DAY EVER IN AUSTRALIA was broken twice this week. The BIGGEST FIRE EVER in Australia happened TODAY (Gospers mountain mega blaze).

    Keep hanging onto your obsolete cherry picked evidence if you want or wake up to the climate emergency that is playing out in real time and accept that only a total effort to decarbonise, build resilience and help steer the global community towards immediate action. People who love their country and want to see it survive do the latter.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:07 am 22 Dec 19

    Please give details of these claims, also the “previous” records that have been broken.

Judith Pinder Judith Pinder 1:27 pm 19 Dec 19

Mmm, after all, what would a scientist know... and especially one who specialises in climate science. What does it take to wake up, huh?

Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 1:01 pm 19 Dec 19

Last time this was declared by the pagan priests of the land ... "we are now in a permanent drought" ..... Cotter Dam overflow with a deluge!! Floods everywhere !! Let's see huh.

    Paul May Paul May 1:25 pm 19 Dec 19

    Henry Kivimaki as against the Christian 'prayers bring rain', which has never worked.

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 1:37 pm 19 Dec 19

    Paul May Says Who ? Even if you had a thousand testimonies and witnesses to prayers being answered ... would you still consider is a coincidence?

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 3:24 pm 19 Dec 19

    Noone reputable has ever declared "permanent drought".

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 9:31 am 20 Dec 19

    Peter Marshall well, no one reputable has believed in "man-made" climate change. 🤷‍♂️

Ken Owers Ken Owers 12:56 pm 19 Dec 19

I do not dispute the figures the professor has submitted, nor am I a climate change denier but I am confused. In the story the professor says “We’re in a situation where we’ve gone too far to not feel the effects of the damage that we’ve done, but it’s not too late to take effective action to stop it from getting much worse in the future,” Am I wrong in assuming Professor Lindesay doesn't believe the climate change is also made up of natural events? If she does believe natural events are also involved, has she researched data that may provide the ratio of man made climate change versus natural climate change? I think this is a question that should be researched to possibly get a balanced argument and discussion to decided where resources can be placed to reduce the effects of global warming. As I said earlier I am in no doubt that climate change is real and that humans have contributed to it, I just want some balanced research published so I can sort out the scare mongering, the political agendas from all sides and the uneducated sheep. If some one has a link which shows these figures please post. Thanks :-)

    Hannah Zurcher Hannah Zurcher 12:59 pm 19 Dec 19

    This *is* balanced research.

    Ken Owers Ken Owers 1:00 pm 19 Dec 19

    Hannah Zurcher Agree but I am just after some kind of data that shows natural V Man made. Does any data exist?

    Brook Clinton Brook Clinton 2:13 pm 19 Dec 19

    Hi Ken Owers, if you're keen to investigate some of the data, I found this article really helpful and full of good sources:

    Tracy Bell Tracy Bell 2:37 pm 19 Dec 19

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick just what i was thinking.

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 3:23 pm 19 Dec 19

    We can't do anything about any natural change, can we? Unless we take steps to become "rarbon-negative" rather than neutral, to try to counteract natural changes?

    Ken Owers Ken Owers 5:19 pm 19 Dec 19

    Peter Marshall well that's the question. If we were to get the human side of climate change under control, is there something that can be done to counteract the natural climate change side. It's a question I'm asking to see if it has been discussed before. Currently all I'm hearing is he said she said type arguments that don't seem to be making any headway at all. Everybody seems to know there is an issue, and people seem to have an answer to the problem yet can't seem to pull together for the sake of humanity and put ALL the proposals on the table and discuss in an adult way a solution. It is very frustrating.

    Annie Mills Annie Mills 5:51 pm 19 Dec 19

    Ken Owers there has s a wealth of information on this site that goes from simple through to complex explanations. If it doesn’t have what you are looking for, NASA is also a great resource.

    Rusty Cee Rusty Cee 9:13 pm 19 Dec 19

    Carbon emissions = man made.

    Trees absorb carbon and create shade cut down trees no carbon filtration and a hotter Earth.

    The ocean produces oxygen pollute the ocean less oxygen hotter ocean.

    Weather is cyclic and in fact not hard hard to predict. These bush fires we are are experiencing here in Australia will soon become a monsoonal flood somewhere else in the world.

    Mark Pittard Mark Pittard 9:16 pm 19 Dec 19

    The expected "natural" change expected from solar irradiance would imply a lowering of temperature, which, may reverse soon.

    That article stresses that greenhouse gases are far more potent then solar irradiance.

    The other issue is we have already introduced positive feedback loops into the system. I am not sure if you would call those "natural" but an example are glaciers. White surfaces reflect more heat than dark. So as ice melts the earth absorbs more heat, which can cause more ice to melt.

    Liz Dovey Liz Dovey 12:08 pm 20 Dec 19

    Ken Owers I can assure you that Prof Lindesay, like the rest of we climate scientists, is indeed well aware of the full range of both natural- and human-mediated causes of climate change. The IPCC has done many detailed analyses of the relative contribution of different factors and has shown clearly that the current changes being experienced are indeed the result of the manmade changes. Check out the suggested info sources if you don't want to go back to the IPCC reports.

    Ken Owers Ken Owers 12:31 pm 20 Dec 19

    Liz Dovey Thanks for the info Liz, are there any reports the IPCC have done that actually show a percentage split, and how those percentages were calculated?

    Chris Warren Chris Warren 6:37 pm 23 Dec 19

    If you are prepared to do the work it is easy to download data and separate natural climate change from human changes.

    Natural changes go up and down in equal measure in the long run. Unnatural changes go up without a compensating downward move. At best, instead of temperature going up and down over time we are getting big step up, little step down (or even a levelling off).

    The unnatural effect can be seen in retreating glaciers when according to natural circumstances (Milankovitch Cycles) they should be expanding.

Jack Hearps Jack Hearps 12:46 pm 19 Dec 19

For all the denialists out there whose opinion is shaped by theses commentators and affiliates. Remember you have been selected because you are special.

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 2:31 pm 19 Dec 19

    Jack Hearps scientist who declared that truth is relative now declare that man made climate change is a "fact". .... Such an authority on truth!!

Corey Karl Corey Karl 12:37 pm 19 Dec 19

Based on what ???

    Jack Hearps Jack Hearps 12:47 pm 19 Dec 19

    Corey Karl Science mate!

    Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 12:50 pm 19 Dec 19

    Jack Hearps Yeah and by scientist that Dosent mean Alan Jones

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 1:01 pm 19 Dec 19

    Jack Hearps there are the "scientists" .... You know..the ones that cant tell the difference between a boy and a girl ( these guys also say that the climate is changing because a cow farted or because Scott Morrison is prime minister) and then there are the .... real scientists.

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 3:21 pm 19 Dec 19

    Climate scientists are not generally professionally involved in gender reveal parties, y'eedjit.

    When you think you've seen every idiotic claim, someone comes along and Trumps them all...

    Corey Karl Corey Karl 3:27 pm 19 Dec 19

    Peter Marshall hold on everyone...... Peters back !!!

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 10:11 am 20 Dec 19

    Peter Marshall really...? Leftism ? Liberalism ? Progressivism ? And all the dark religions associated with it ? Occult, Luciferianism , Freemasonry, witchcraft etc etc. You know... the elephant in the room...? No ?.

    ...still can't connect the dots?

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