Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Just a Very Bad Year in America, or a Glimpse of Future Climate

In the summer of 2012 America experienced the normal inverse relationship between temperature and rainfall. When the weather is wet there is a tendency to be cool and when it is dry there a tendency to be hot. This is what happened in the Dust Bowl era in the 1930s, the air being very dry over much of the US, associated with high temperatures that in many cases were record-breaking. About the only temperature record from that time that had not been broken later was the average temperature for July 1936, it has now finally been exceeded.

Jul 2012  

 By far the hottest month in the lower 48 states.

Widespread drought that got steadily worse throughout summer with repercussions on crop yields and food prices. Rampant wildfires.

May 2012

Record low snowpack in the Colorado Rockies.

June 2012

Major wildfires, more than 600 houses destroyed in Colorado.

July 2012

Record breaking heat in Oklahoma and surrounding areas. Each occurrence of fires, record heat, record low snowpack on their own don't indicate anything other than an unusual year, but combined the first 7 months of 2012 were the hottest on record, with more than half the counties in America declared disaster areas as result of drought and snowpacks at all time lows, the indications are much more significant for climate, indicating that there is more than just natural variability involved. The author suggests global warming has shown itself in a way that he says should be seen as a major warning of what is to come

Nov 2012

Then there was Hurricane Sandy that led to flooding on a massive scale and a record-breaking storm surge in lower Manhattan, where it set a new record of 4 m, and the coastal areas of New Jersey, as well as coastal erosion and a huge amount of wind damage.

The author1 suggests these conditions probably won't all occur together in 2013, but they can be expected to happen together increasingly more often as the time passes. He says the part that human activity played in these problems include higher water temperatures that cause the oceans to expand thereby causing sea level to rise, that led to the high storm surge, the strength of the hurricane results from warmer ocean water. Natural weather patterns determine to a large extent where these conditions occur next, suggested by the author to result from ocean temperature phenomena such as El Niņo events. One thing that has changed is that intensity of droughts, where they occur, and floods occur in other areas, are both getting more intense, with records being broken, as is to be expected in a climate that is warming.

The author1 says that though same set of conditions that occurred in 2012 will probably not occur in the US in 2013, it is likely that somewhere in the world they will occur. It is quite common for drought and heat to occur in one area at the same time as very wet weather, often with floods, occur in other regions. This phenomenon is expected by meteorologists as the atmospheric waves that cause high pressure, anticyclones, associated with fine weather in some places, while in other places low pressure storms, cyclones, are associated with unsettled weather.

An example is 2009, when drought and extremely high temperatures occurred in southeast Australia, mostly around Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, the heat wave being one of the most extreme in the state's history, leading to the devastating fires of Black Saturday, while in the US the northern plains were inundated by severe floods.

In 2010 it was Russia's turn to experience the most extreme heat wave since the beginning of instrumental history, while Pakistan, Australia and Colombia were deluged, resulting in severe flooding.

In 2011 it was Texas that was extremely hot and dry, with many new temperature records, leading to crop losses from heat and drought that reached the billions of dollars, while the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers flooded, and the northeast of the county experienced very wet weather.

In 2012 most of the coterminous US had drought and record-high temperatures, the crop losses exceeding those of 2011 by August, while there was a record wet spring in the UK, and southern Russia, Japan, North Korea and Beijing, China all had severe flooding.

2013 - It is not yet known who will be hot and dry and who will be wet and cool.

In 2012 La Niņa conditions were present in the tropical Pacific in the first part of the year, then in the second part of the year a weak El Niņo developed, and as tropical storm activity shifted to the Pacific there was a weak Atlantic hurricane season. This change in weather pattern brought the hope of cooler, wetter weather in the south. As usual, when some get cooler, wetter weather, someone else gets hotter, drier weather. This time Australia received the hotter, drier weather, and the lush vegetation that had flourished after the floods dried out and became fuel for wildfires when the heat rose.

Though not every part of the world is consistently hotter at all times as the Earth enters a period of global climate change to a hotter world, everyone will be affected in some way, to some degree, by the change. Demand for water increasingly becomes a problem, and as repeated drought, heat and floods damage or decrease crops. In 2012 climate change has already cost the US billions of dollars, and things can only get worse for the world.

The author points out that there have always been costs from bad weather, but as the climate becomes more extreme as a result of a warming climate these costs will increase as crop losses occur on an increasingly larger scale.

PS by MHM.

 It seems Australia is the lucky country to have its turn at the hot times. As of the 5th of January 2013 fires are raging in 5 of the 7 states with record high temperatures well above 40oC (104oF) and dry conditions that are being described as ominous that are being worsened by strong winds. Comparisons are being made between the conditions leading to Black Saturday in Victoria and those of the present in Tasmania. Residents of the southern capitals are being warned of a run of hot days to come, well above average temperatures for this time of year. At least 80 buildings have already been lost and it is just the beginning of the fire season.

Jan 12 2013

All Australian states are now burning. Record temperatures continue to be set all over the continent, both for maximum temperatures and for the most number of days above 40oC without a break. The new record average temperature for the continent was set on the 7th of January, 2013, 40.33oC (105oF). Fires that haven't been reported in the TV news have burnt out an area estimated to be 33 times the area of Belgium over the past several months, wiping out all pasture on some cattle stations (ranches) and killing thousands of cattle. And still no relief in sight. The monsoon rain that usually deluges northern Australia in summer is late, and so far seems to be staying further north. The only part of the continent that might get some relief is the northwest coast where a category 4 cyclone has been moving along the coast a couple of hundred kilometres off Western Australia, though it is thought it might not cross the coast. 

Sources & Further reading

  1. Trenberth, Kenneth, Dec 2012, Climate 2012: A window into what to expect for 2013 and beyond, Earth.


  1. Australian record-breaking heat and wildfires
  2. Forgotten Disaster


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated 05/01/2013 
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