Friday, January 04, 2008

Australia's New Climate : 'Extreme Dry'

How long do you call a drought a drought before it becomes so permanent it demands to be called something else?

A drought describes a climate state that is not permanent, but weather experts are now wondering if the current drought hammering south-eastern Australia, and now recognised as the worst in more than 100 years, will ever lift :

"Perhaps we should call it (the extreme dry) our new climate," said the Bureau of Meteorology's head of climate analysis, David Jones.

He was speaking after the release of statistics showing that last year was the hottest on record in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT.

NSW's mean temperature was 1.13 degrees above average. "That is a very substantial anomaly," Dr Jones said. "It's equivalent to moving NSW 150 kilometres closer to the equator."

It was the 11th year in a row NSW and the Murray-Darling Basin had experienced above normal temperatures. Sydney's nights were its warmest since records were first kept 149 years ago.

"There is absolutely no debate that Australia is warming," said Dr Jones. "It is very easy to see … it is happening before our eyes."

The only uncertainty now was whether the changing pattern was "85 per cent, 95 per cent or 100 per cent the result of the enhanced greenhouse effect".

"There is a debate in the climate community, after … close to 12 years of drought, whether this is something permanent. Certainly, in terms of temperature, that seems to be our reality, and that there is no turning back.

"Last year climate change became very evident in south-eastern Australia, with South Australia, NSW, Victoria, the ACT and the Murray-Darling Basin all setting temperature records by a very large margin," he said.

2007 was an extraordinary year of extreme weather events in Sydney and New South Wales.

Sydney had its stormiest year since 1963, with 33 thunderstorms, compared with the historic average of 28.

The highest temperature recorded in NSW last year was 46 degrees, at Ivanhoe on January 11. Charlotte Pass shivered through the state's coldest night when the mercury dipped to minus 11 on July 23.

The suddenly changing weather in Sydney is getting so weird maybe we need umbrellas with both heaters and air-conditioning built into the handle. Solar and wind powered, of course.

A few weeks back, a weatherman on the evening news was left absolutely flummoxed by the appearance of sudden and massive thunderstorms, where none had been predicted. During the chit-chat between the weatherman and newsreader, the newsreader asked "So should we be packing umbrellas tomorrow." The weatherman shrugged, and said : "We don't really know."

A few seconds of dead air followed.

We don't really expect the meteorologists to know exactly the state of our skies tomorrow, or next week. But they're supposed to make us believe they do know what's coming. When they give up and say "Who knows what's going to happen," it's more than a little weird, and freaky.