Townsville’s 2019 floods

The Townsville flood of January-February 2019 was, like cyclones Althea and Yasi, one of the extreme weather events which define people’s lives in the city. Two months later, “How did you go in the floods?” is still the first question we ask friends we haven’t seen for a while. There’s a lot for Green Path to say about it but whatever we publish now will be incomplete so we will update and extend it as appropriate, in separate posts if justified by the amount of extra material.

Let’s begin with an overview of the weather event and its immediate consequences.

The weather event

A low in the monsoon trough over the Gulf became a rain depression and drifted South and East until it settled over Townsville, where it stayed much longer than “normal” (we will have to return to that concept later) and dumped an inordinate amount of rain on us over about ten days – say 29-30 Jan to 7-8 Feb.  Continue reading “Townsville’s 2019 floods”

The (extreme) summer that was

Summer has officially ended and many Aussies are really, really glad that it has. Various groups have presented comment or analysis on it and I have collected some of the best information and graphics here.

The Bureau of Meteorology produces seasonal and annual summaries which are totally accurate and reliable but quite impersonal. Here, for instance, is the overview from their Australia in summer 2012–13

In terms of both maximum and mean temperatures, summer 2012–13 was the warmest on record for Australia. Minimum temperatures were also significantly above average for the season, placing as the sixth warmest in 103 years of record. All mainland States and Territories recorded maxima in the top 10 records for summer; only a strip of the east coast and part of Western Australia recorded near-average maxima, associated with above-average rainfall. Minima were also generally above to very much above average, with scattered areas across the tropics and part of South Australia recording near-average minima.

Summer rainfall was below average for most of Australia, except for most of Western Australia and a strip extending along the east coast and adjacent hinterland from Mackay to southern New South Wales. Across this part of eastern Australia rainfall was above average, and generally in the highest decile closer to the coast. Rainfall was also above average in western and northern Western Australia, excluding the far north. The remainder of Western Australia and the central Northern Territory recorded near-average summer rainfall.

Okay, we don’t want the BoM to get wildly emotional and lose the plot, but the psychological distance between their report and our experience is nearly as extreme as the weather itself. (Actually, it’s reminding me of an ought-to-be-classic youtube clip – click here if you haven’t seen Weather Girl Goes Rogue.)

Get-up knew what we were feeling and produced an arresting poster: 318-climateinfographic-sm

Clicking on the above will, as usual, get you a bigger image but there is also a poster-size version (3 MB) here in case you want to print it.

In response to the disasters, various people went online. Townsville Storms is a Facebook page set up for “Weather & Community Info, Photos & Social Page for Gladstone to Cooktown, west to Mt Isa” by “Shane, Narelle, Trish, Allan and Shaun.” NQ Flood Update is similar but covers Sarina to Cape York and was an offshoot of a “CQ Flood Update” page. It’s great to see people getting out there and sharing information!

The official counterpart of those two is the Queensland Weather Fire Road & Police Warnings FB page.

At the height of the Queensland floods, a Canadian astronaut captured images of the Queensland floods from a unique angle: Commander Chris Hadfield took photos while passing over central Queensland in the International Space Station on Tuesday 29 January, sharing them with the world via Twitter.

Flood plume from space, Bundaberg, 29 Jan 2013
Flood plume from space, Bundaberg, Jan 2013

The Angry Summer is a report by Professor Will Steffen of the Climate Commission. Its “key facts” begin with, “Extreme weather events dominated the 2012/2013 Australian summer, including record-breaking heat, severe bushfires, extreme rainfall and damaging flooding. Extreme heatwaves and catastrophic bushfire conditions during the Angry Summer were made worse by climate change,” and a dozen pages detail the events and sketch the science which links them firmly to our changing climate. Again, there are some great graphics – print them out and post them on a notice board!

Extreme weather around the world

For a while now the climate scientists have been warning that global warming isn’t simply a matter of the weather getting a little warmer everywhere. Rather, the warming will vary from place to place and be accompanied by changes of weather patterns, especially rainfall. That is already happening. I have mentioned extreme weather events here before over the last year or so, and in fact the last few months have seen a cluster of extreme events which are causing great suffering across the Northern hemisphere.

We know that none of these can be ascribed to climate change with any certainty but there is a growing body of knowledge (e.g. IPCC, Climate Communication, Union of Concerned Scientists) which shows that we can confidently give the odds that a particular event would have happened without global warming, and the experts are quoting high odds against any of these happening under our old weather patterns. The combined odds against all of them happening by chance are infinitesimal.

The silver lining to this litany of disaster is that ordinary people are beginning to see for themselves that weird things are happening to their weather and are more willing to acknowledge that climate change is indeed here already, that it is looking scarier every year, and that we really should try harder to avert it.

Smile: In what seems like poetic environmental justice, a brown coal mine in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley has also been flooded after unusually heavy rain.

Don’t smile too broadly: James Hansen, one of the world’s pre-eminent climatologists, has warned that the future he predicted is here here already and it is worse than he expected, sooner than he expected – almost entirely because of extreme weather events:

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

The rest of his Washington Post article is here and if you want the whole scientific  paper you can get it – free – here.