The main focus of this post, therefore, is the effect of the monsoonal floods early this year. Townsville was hit hard, but so was Western Queensland. The Flinders River had 50-year floods and was 200 kilometres wide at its peak; and the Flinders, of course runs from the Burra Range and the northern corner of White Mountains National Park through Hughenden to the Gulf, picking up the waters of Porcupine Creek on the way.
I maintained a composite list of the birds seen in and from the garden of my previous home in Water St, Mundingburra, and the last addition to it was – all too appropriately – a pair of Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) which flew in to land on the growing lake in the street in front of the house as the flood waters rose on Sunday Feb 3, 2019.
The story of the flood as an extreme weather event is here, and as it affected Townsville is here.
I have added the ducks to the list and declared it closed.
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 theweather 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”
None of the above is necessarily due to global warming but it is all entirely consistent with global warming, and we can expect that weather like this will become normal as global warming progresses. Bearing in mind that this year represents, as the BoM says, temperatures [only] 1.2 C* above the baseline and medium-term predictions are in the range of 2 – 6 C above the baseline, I think we should be more worried than most of us are; but I will deal with those issues on their own in another post as soon as I can find time.
*That 1.2 C was Australia’s land surface temperature deviation. We out-did ourselves last year and in doing so we out-did the rest of the world, which is why the global average deviation (see below) is only half as large.
Now seems to be the time to look at those looming problems, while extreme weather around the world is dominating our evening news:
James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, told us a few years ago that global warming was “loading the climate dice”, making extreme weather events much more common (quick introduction / technical introduction), and this is what we are seeing now. The bad news is that people are suffering the effects of climate change earlier than they would have done if this amplification of extreme weather had not occurred; its silver lining is that the extreme events are encouraging their victims to sit up and take notice and (hopefully) take action on the underlying problem earlier than they would otherwise have done.
I’m not the only person to have noticed this, of course. Al Gore’s recent comments on the subject, for instance, have been widely shared. The Guardian (rapidly becoming one of my more-trusted news sources, by the way) reported him thus:
Extreme weather events including typhoon Haiyan and superstorm Sandy are proving a “gamechanger” for public awareness of the threat posed by climate change, Al Gore said on Friday.
The former US vice-president, speaking to delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said: “I think that these extreme weather events which are now a hundred times more common than 30 years ago are really waking people’s awareness all over the world [on climate change], and I think that is a gamechanger. It comes about, of course, because we continue to put 90 million tonnes of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day, as if it’s an open sewer.”
But he said the falling price of solar and wind power gave hope for efforts to tackle climate change.
“There’s a second gamechanger, that is that the cost down-curve for photovoltaic electricity and, to a lesser extent, wind. In 13 countries, the price of solar is cheaper than or equal to the [electricity] grid average price.” He claimed that within a decade most people would live in regions where that was true, and said of the falling costs of the technologies: “It is very impressive and it is opening up great opportunities for the world to solve climate change.”
There are, I think, two take-home messages from all of the above (1) we must all be prepared for wild weather from here into the foreseeable future and (2) if this weather is what we get from an average global temperature just 0.6 – 0.7 C above the twentieth-century average, a 2C rise is not going to be “safe enough” by any reasonable interpretation.
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:
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!
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.
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!