Counting my Blessings

This is the coldest time of year in the Prairies. Below -20 °C it all feels about the same, but the fuel lines in cars freeze more easily, and outdoor sports are no longer safe. We all become grouchy creatures of the indoors for a few months each year. But as much as I hate the extreme cold, I would rather be here than in Australia right now.

A record-breaking, continent-wide heat wave has just wrapped up, and Australia has joined the Arctic in the list of regions where the temperature is so unusually warm that new colours have been added to the map legends. This short-term forecast by the ACCESS model predicts parts of South Australia to reach between 52 and 54 °C on Monday:

For context, the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 56.7 °C, in Death Valley during July of 1913. Australia’s coming pretty close.

This heat wave has broken dozens of local records, but the really amazing statistics come from national average daily highs: the highest-ever value at 40.33 °C, on January 7th; and seven days in a row above 39 °C, the most ever, from January 2nd to 8th.

Would this have happened without climate change? It’s a fair question, and (for heat waves at least) one that scientists are starting to tackle – see James Hansen’s methodology that concluded recent heat waves in Texas and Russia were almost certainly the result of climate change.

At any rate, this event suggests that uninformed North Americans who claim “warming is a good thing” haven’t been to Australia.


25 thoughts on “Counting my Blessings

  1. I live in South Australia, but I think I still prefer it here, despite our hot dry spring and the record breaking heat of our summer.
    Of course if I were in the path of one of the wildfires which are out of control in every state of Australia, no doubt I would feel differently!

  2. Now that we’re entering a period of abrupt climate change (notably the Arctic sea ice and snow albedo loss, but also multiple other processes either underway or posing a potential threat) it seems reasonable that we can all expect to witness serious changes over the coming few years and beyond.

    In my opinion people fixate too much on records and the extremes of conditions as perceived by people and fail to fully appreciate the threats posed to infrastructure and agriculture. It would be perfectly possible to have an unseasonably mild spell in spring (as happened in the northern US states in 2012) that would feel rather pleasant to people – but which proved devastating for the yields of certain fruits. They were “tricked” into thinking spring had come and starting to grow accordingly – then fragile buds were destroyed by a frost not untypical for the time of year. Nearly total loss of some crops in some areas.

    The proliferation of the pine beetles is another good example of a serious effect from a change that isn’t exactly “extreme” in terms of our species (pretty extreme for the species at work though).

  3. Imagine living in a place where tremendous power is required to run air conditioning – just to survive the heat. I lived in Tucson, Arizona years ago, one could sort of get by without AC back then – swamp coolers we called them. Still required electricity and water. Heat can kill, and fairly quick. Higher risk to live where energy must constantly run survival machinery. Yikes !

  4. “Would this have happened without climate change?”

    All weather now occurs in a warmer planet. So, at the very least, every extreme event is made worse because of climate change.

    By the way, I come from the prairies as well – Winnipeg to be exact – and your statement that “outdoor sports are no longer safe” made me smile. I was reminded of Christmas holidays spent playing hockey at outdoor rinks :)

  5. The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for the last decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slow down in the growth rate of net climate forcing.
    James Hansen

    • Personally, I am not willing to wait until Roger makes up his mind. I think we have seen enough to be convinced the risks of inaction are too great.

  6. It seems that MikeN missed a few pertinent points in the Hansen, Sato and Ruedy report:

    –“Note that the 10 warmest years in the record all occurred since 1998.”

    –“The long-term warming trend, including continual warming since the mid-1970s, has been
    conclusively associated with the predominant global climate forcing, human-made greenhouse gases which began to grow substantially early in the 20th century.”

    –“The observational data show that the frequency of unusually warm anomalies has been increasing decade by decade over the past three decades.”

    –“…the decade-by-decade movement of the bell curve to the right, and the emergence of an increased number of extreme warm anomalies, is an expression of increasing global warming. Some seasons continue to be unusually cool even by the standard of average 1951-1980 climate, but the “climate dice” are now sufficiently loaded that an observant person should notice that unusually warm seasons are occurring much more frequently than they did a few decades earlier.”

    –“The 5-year running mean of global temperature has been flat for the past decade. It should be noted that the “standstill” temperature is at a much higher level than existed
    at any year in the prior decade except for the single year 1998, which had the strongest El Nino of the century. However, the standstill has led to a widespread [and incorrect] assertion that “global warming has stopped”.”

    –“We conclude that background global warming is continuing, consistent with the known planetary energy imbalance.”

    –“[O]ur interpretation of the larger role of unforced variability in temperature change of the past decade…suggests that global temperature will rise significantly in the next few years as the tropics moves inevitably into the next El Nino phase.”

    Click to access 20130115_Temperature2012.pdf

    • Regardless, it doesn’t really matter, since surface air temperature is an imperfect proxy for planetary warming. A much better proxy – i.e. less noisy, and where most of the heat is going anyway – would be the ocean. Historically the lack of ocean temperature data prevented this approach, but that is changing quite quickly with the use of ARGO floats and similar technology.

      • One problem with that is even if no heat is found in the oceans, it becomes theorized that the heat is going to the deep oceans where no measurement is occurring. I agree that ocean heat content is a better measure, especially when Giss just warms a whole decade by .02C as they did in their most recent update.

      • MikeN, unwarranted accusations of impropriety are not okay. If you have solid evidence that scientists are manipulating temperature data to suit some undefined political agenda, please present it; otherwise, take your conspiracy theories elsewhere.

      • Let’s not forget the large amounts of energy (heat) being expended in melting ice, especially in the Arctic ocean where things change rather fundamentally within the next few years when we reach the first ice free summer minimum for the sea ice. In that region the albedo shift will then cause the absorption of a lot more energy – and the absence of ice to absorb energy will permit the temperature to climb.

      • Energy going into melting sea ice is actually pretty small – see the graphic below, which uses AR4 data. The real heat-sucker, obviously, is the ocean.

      • I think that’s an interesting point. In absolute terms, I’d be forced to agree with you on that basis – the energy melting ice is proportionally fairly small. It is however the same as all the energy being absorbed by the continental landmasses and not a lot less than that being absorbed by the atmosphere?

        A question I would raise would be – is it fair to question the significance of the extra energy in the respective areas of the system – and the capacity of those areas of the system to absorb it? (the oceans are obviously rather big)

        I should have separated out my comment a bit better with respect to the sea ice versus land ice – I was referring to the total ice loss from melting in one respect – and to an ongoing state change in the system in the other. I personally hold the view that the impending summer time loss of the Arctic sea ice will have a disproportionate effect upon the rest of the system.

        My basis for arguing that we will lose the Arctic sea ice cover in summer within the next few years is based upon the PIOMAS volume plot ( with the note that it is apparently validated by submarine data (with especial reference to Peter Wadhams and his research), land surveys and satellite measurements (though I’m not sure how well the absolute values from Cryosat match to PIOMAS – agreement seems good about rate of loss).

        All somewhat of an aside in this context I appreciate – more relevant to the post about the jet stream changes and the Francis & Vavrus research (as it seems reasonable to expect rapid worsening).

        Thanks for the graphic – I hadn’t appreciated just how dominant the oceans were, I have to admit (I’d have guessed around 75% – based on surface area).

  7. I saw a comment at Weather Underground once that some doubt the Death Valley record because it was achieved during a sandstorm and hot sand may have been lodged into the thermometer.

  8. I’m not stating a conspiracy theory, just an unreliability theory based on fact.
    This time last month, GISS was reporting certain values for the temperature of the planet for each month going back over a century. The values reported right now are .02C or more warmer than those reported a month ago, for at least the past decade. I haven’t checked far back enough to see if this is a consistent warming, which would be contradictory as they report the same baseline level in both reports.

    • That scenario would not necessarily be contradictory. Changes to the analysis algorithms happen all the time, and data sources are added when available. If GISS improved coverage in the Arctic, say, I could see this happening. It is by no means an indication of unreliability.

      • What confuses me is the change to V3 happened awhile ago, but no explanation of an analysis change. This would seem to be worth a major update to v4. You get changes of a point or 2 all the time, but a consistent warming for every year going back decades?

      • My guess is that there was a moderate change to their algorithms or data, but nothing has been added to the updates page yet – either because the scientists haven’t had time, or because issues with the GISS web server (which is very flaky at the moment, there are notices about it all over their site) is preventing it.

  9. What GISS reports now:
    2008 23 31 69 48 46 42 55 41 56 60 62 51
    2009 56 48 49 56 58 61 66 61 65 59 70 57
    2010 66 74 86 81 70 59 57 59 55 64 75 45
    2011 46 44 58 60 47 53 69 69 53 59 50 45
    2012 36 39 49 60 70 59 51 57 66 70 68 44

    What GISS reported a week ago:
    2008 17 26 66 44 41 35 54 37 53 56 58 49
    2009 55 46 48 49 54 62 67 56 66 60 66 60
    2010 69 75 85 77 66 57 51 55 54 63 72 45
    2011 46 44 57 56 43 51 66 66 50 55 47 43
    2012 32 37 45 55 67 56 46 58 61 69

    both have the same 1951-1980 baseline of 14.0C

    • What are these measurements? Global averages, or hemispheric? Land, ocean, or both? Given that the units are clearly not °C, what are they (perhaps 0.01 °C anomalies)? Do you have a link to where you first downloaded them?

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