By MATT SIEGEL
4 March 2013
SYDNEY, Australia (The New York Times) – Climate change was a major driving force behind a string of extreme weather events that alternately scorched and soaked large sections of Australia in recent months, according to a report [pdf] issued Monday by the government’s Climate Commission.
A four-month heat wave during the Australian summer culminated in January in bush fires that tore through the eastern and southeastern coasts of the country, where most Australians live. Those record-setting temperatures were followed by torrential rains and flooding in the more densely populated states of New South Wales and Queensland that left at least six people dead and caused roughly $2.43 billion in damage along the eastern seaboard.
Climate scientists have long hesitated to link individual weather events directly to climate change. Australian climate scientists in particular have been cautious to connect the two in part because of the country’s naturally occurring cycles of drought and flooding rains, which are already extreme when compared with much of the rest of the world.
But the report from the Climate Commission, titled The Angry Summer, argues that the frequency and ferocity of recent extreme weather events indicate an acceleration that is unlikely to abate unless serious steps are taken to prevent further changes to the planet’s environment. […]
At least 123 weather records fell during the 90-day period the report examined. Included were milestones like the hottest summer on record, the hottest day for Australia as a whole and the hottest seven consecutive days ever recorded. To put it into perspective, in the 102 years since Australia began gathering national records, there have been 21 days when the country averaged a high of more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius), and eight of them were in 2013. […]
“Statistically, there is a 1-in-500 chance that we are talking about natural variation causing all these new records,” Will Steffen, the director of the Climate Change Institute at Australian National University, told The Sydney Morning Herald. “Not too many people would want to put their life savings on a 500-to-1 horse.” [more]