Tuesday 14 February 2017

The Big Australian Heat

Australian Heat Wave Raises Concern for Country's New, Sizzling Normal
Temperatures spiked over 100 degrees in Sydney, bringing extreme heat to the most populated areas of an already hot continent.


A summer heatwave scorched the most populated parts of Australia over the weekend, with temperatures topping 107 degrees Fahrenheit in Sydney and 96 degrees in Melbourne, with readings up to 117 degrees farther inland.

As wildfires raged and several weather stations reported all-time and monthly record highs, climate scientists warned that the this summer's extreme heat, super-charged by climate change, is becoming Australia's new normal.

Nearly every week has brought extreme heat this summer, but the latest surge was exceptional by encompassing nearly all of New South Wales, home to the capital Sydney and 7.5 million people. The average maximum temperature hit 111.2 degrees Fahrenheit Saturday across about 300,000 square miles, similar to an area the size of the southeastern U.S.

Temperatures were even hotter during the Great Heat Wave of 2013, but those extreme readings were concentrated in the less-populated, central area of the country.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported that a weather station at White Cliffs, in the Southeast, recorded the warmest-ever nighttime low temperature in Australia, at 94.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Overnight temperatures are especially important in terms of human health impacts, because if nights don't cool down, people don't have a chance to recover from the extreme daytime temperatures.
Some spots in Queensland, in the Northeast, broke the 40 degree Celsius mark (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time ever—another sign that heatwaves are broaching new frontiers, according to Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick of Australia's Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales.

The heat has helped fuel large wildfires and as of late Sunday, 48 fires were burning out of control in New South Wales. Tens of thousands of people were being evacuated in some rural areas, with officials saying the conditions are worse than during the deadly Black Sunday fires that killed 173 people in 2009, Australian media  reported. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology expects above-average heat to persist through February and into March.

The state of New South Wales was 6 degrees Fahrenheit above average in January, making it the third-warmest January  record. Several towns west of Sydney had record-setting streaks of temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, with the trend continuing into February, according to a recent post on NOAA's Climate.gov website.

Based on records going back to the late 1800s, there's no question that heatwaves have become more frequent, with some regional nuances, Perkins-Kirkpatrick said.

"In Canberra, Australia's capital, the number of heat wave days has doubled in the past 60 years. In that same time, the beginning of the heatwave season in Sydney has advanced by three weeks, and in Melbourne, heatwaves are hotter," she said.

The buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere means things will get much worse. By the end of the century, Australia's tropics will see an additional 40-50 heatwave days, while Sydney and Melbourne will see 2030 more days of extreme heat annually.

"What's really interesting about this event is that all the physical mechanisms that drive heat waves are not in place," Perkins-Kirkpatrick said, explaining that normal climate cycles like El Niño and hemispheric wind patterns are not influencing Australia this summer.

"So we should have had average conditions, but what we have had is dominating high pressure systems keeping temperatures persistently hot."

Extreme heat has killed more Australians than any other type of natural disaster in the last 100 years, according to the Australian Climate Council.

Australia has always been prone to hot weather, but long-time researchers like forest and fire ecologist David Bowman said human-caused global warming is now having a noticeable effect.

"In the last few years it has crossed a line—the anomalous weather has become consistently anomalous. I am confident we are seeing climate change play out in bush fires," he said, citing a number of extreme and deadly fires that have blazed across Australia in the past 10 years.

"We are therefore in a period where talk about adaptation is moving from the academic futuristic realm to the real world of now. Unfortunately, individuals and societies are lagging in this adaptive process—there is a huge amount to do and we have frittered away precious time debating abstractions or missing the point entirely. Numerous extreme events, seem unfortunately, the only things to spur broader social change."

Australia's current heatwave is just the latest in a series of extreme heat events around the world that are increasingly being linked with the buildup of greenhouse gases in a world that has set a global temperature record three years in a row.

Parts of South America have also warmed to record levels this year, including Chile, where 12 different weather stations set all-time temperature records above 110 degrees Fahrenheit in late January, as the largest wildfires on record in that country swept across more than 300,000 acres, according to Weather Underground.

And 2016 ended with a record heat wave and drought in the Southeast, where conditions also contributed to unusually large and intense wildfires, in some cases in normally moist hardwood forests that don't see much fire.

Heatwave horror! Thousands of dead bats are dropping from trees after near 50C (122F) temperatures in Australia

Photo Northern Star
13 February, 2017

Thousands of dead bats are dropping from trees after temperatures topped 47 degrees in parts of New South Wales.

The area worst affected was Casino in the Richmond Valley region of northern New South Wales, where more than 2,000 dead flying foxes have been found.

Richmond Valley Council general manager Vaughan Macdonald said many of the dead bats were difficult to access because they were scattered along riverbanks.
He said the council was working as fast as it could to dispose of the animals, but residents should brace themselves for the stench of deca.

"For the bats that remain in the trees they will start to decompose and as that happens they will drop," Mr Macdonald said.

"We will continue to monitor the area and pick them up as that happens.

"There may be some odours, so again people just report that to council and we will respond as soon as possible."

WIRES Northern Rivers Bat Coordinator Lib Ruytenberg said despite the high losses, volunteer wildlife carers had managed to save a few hundred bats in the Casino and Kyogle areas.

"We were using mist-spraying to hydrate the trees where the bats were roosting [in Casino] and the ones that came down low, we took them into care and hydrated them," she said.

Ms Ruytenberg said the heat stress would continue to affect bats throughout the week.

"Over the next few days we'll be seeing bats still coming down and falling into people's backyards," she said.

"Members of the public need to remember that they shouldn't touch the bats.
"They can throw a towel over the bat if it's on the ground, but then they need to call us [WIRES] to take it way."

More than 700 flying foxes also died in the Upper Hunter town of Singleton due to the extreme heat. The majority of the dead bats were found in Burdekin Park, which has been home to a large flying fox population.

Singleton experienced temperatures of 47 degrees over the weekend.

Jalla Presland, from Wildlife Aid in the Upper Hunter, said it was the worst heat stress-related deaths they had seen in the colony in more than 10 years.
"We are currently sitting at just under 700 and that's without having collected the ones from around the town," she said.

"Unfortunately we encounter it in much smaller numbers most summers.
"The worst one that we have encountered is this one since 2004."

North Coast Area Health Service spokesman Greg Bell warned people not to touch bats unless they were fully vaccinated against lyssavirus and trained to handle bats.

"Australian bats can carry the lyssavirus and that's very serious," he said.

"We've had three human cases of lyssavirus in Australia, in Queensland, and all three people died." Mr Bell said if anyone was bitten or scratched by a bat they must seek medical treatment.

"Don't panic.

Wash the site with good quality soap and water, apply a good quality disinfectant and then call your GP or present to the nearest emergency department," he said.
"There is no risk from the odour, faeces or urine."

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