Highest daily maximum temperature during the first two weeks of January. Australian Bureau of Meteorology
Highest daily maximum temperature during the first two weeks of January. Australian Bureau of Meteorology

By Claire

In Australia at the moment, it’s summer, and it’s hot! And not just hot, record breaking hot.

So far this year, at least 52 weather stations have broken the record for the highest recorded maximum January temperature (32 of these are also the hottest day ever recorded for these stations) and around 20 stations have recorded their highest minimum January temperature on record.

But it’s not only individual stations that are breaking records – Australia as a whole is the hottest it has ever been. 

“On Monday and Tuesday last week (January 7 and 8) the Australian-averaged maximum temperature rose to over 40°C. Monday’s temperature of 40.33°C set a new record, beating the previous highest Australian daily maximum of 40.17°C set in 1972. Tuesday’s temperature came in as the 3rd highest on record at 40.11°C,” writes a team of meteorologist from the Bureau of Meteorology for blog site, “The Conversation“.

“Perhaps more unusually, the Australian mean temperature (representing the average of the daytime maximum and night-time minimum) set record high values on both days at 32.22 (January 7) and 32.32°C (January 8), that were well above the previous high of 31.86°C, set in 1972.”

This naturally leads to the question, “Are these extreme temperatures due to climate change?”

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes.

So far, the Earth has warmed by an average of 1°C during the last 100 years. The weather we see from day to day is occurring on top of this 1°C warming. It’s for this reason that we’re seeing so many warm records broken.

What we’ve essentially done is “load the dice” due to the underlying warming that has already occurred. What this means is that because of climate change, it is more likely that we will see temperatures above average conditions.

Increase in the number of extremes due to climate change. From Coumou et al, 2013.
Increase in the number of extremes due to climate change. From Coumou et al, 2013.

A new article just published in the journal “Climatic Change” concludes that “on average, there are now five times as many record-breaking hot months worldwide than could be expected without long-term global warming. In parts of Europe, Africa and southern Asia the number of monthly records had increased even by a factor of ten.”

The extreme weather that we have seen in Australia will not be called extreme in the future, it will become the norm.