Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Blowing Winds Of Climate Change in Australia

Last Sunday, 27th September, the Australian state of Tasmania was battered by exceptionally strong winds that brought down thousands of trees, ripped off roofs and guttering from houses, tore power lines and blocked many rural roads with large piles of debris from fallen limbs and trunks of trees from adjacent forests and plantations.

Today, two and a half days after the event, our house is one of the 2,700 still without power.[1] There are at least a dozen large trees on our bush block that lie with their roots protruding out of the ground. Fortunately the local road is now just cleared enough to allow access to vehicles but powerlines are down; they lie in a neighbour's paddock. A tree still leans precariously onto electricity wires only half a kilometre away.[2]

The sheer force of the winds were beyond the experience of local people. Farmer Hayes approached on his tractor this morning. He simply nodded his head in his usual mode of gleeful resignation and declared that we can now expect this sort of thing from now on. "We may as well get used to it."

Only four days earlier a red dust cloud "70 times the level rated hazardous" to health [3] enveloped large parts of New South Wales and southern Queensland; an area approximately 1,500 kilometres long by 400 kilometres wide [4].... to be more precise. This was yet another unprecedented event. No other single dust storm of such magnitude has occurred before, although the last one in October 2002 came close.

Paramedics attended hundreds of calls to distressed, choking individuals. Airline flights were cancelled or redirected to other cities. Traffic was held up for hours due to low visibility. However, the repercussions for Australian farmers after the loss of roughly four million tonnes of soil is yet to be felt.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this month heralds the new winds of climate change in Australia. The portents are so many that most people in this hotter and dryer island continent are pretty well convinced that the weather we have now is entirely new and ominous.

Abrupt and stark changes are happening in Australia's climate[5] and landscape so frequently they're becoming a type of online diary entry for me. This winter just ended was Australia's hottest on record.[6] It followed only a few month's after Australia's most catastrophic summer [7] which, in turn, was followed by massive fire outbreaks in Southern Australia.[8] These six hundred odd fires in one state alone were yet another example of a tragedy whose enormity (like the vast majority of other recent changes) is unprecedented in its scale and effect.

The blunt truth is that the changes in our climate give Australia its new reality. It gives it now; it gives it with or without our acceptance. Things have already become very complicated.

Unfortunately, the climate didn't wait for us.

[1] http://www.examiner.com.au/news/local/news/disasters-accidents/2700-still-without-power-and-it-could-be-days-for-some/1634901.aspx

[2] I write from the house of a family member.

[3] 'Air-quality readings off the chart' Aden Creswell and Angus Hohenboken. The Australian, page 6. 24th September 2009.

[4] 'Red Centre causes havoc in big city' The Australian. Page 1. 24th September 2009.

[5] Outside of the Vortex. Brenda Rosser

[6] Only a Decade. Brenda Rosser

[7] Australia's Catastrophic Summer of 2009. Brenda Rosser. Jan/Feb 2009

[8] Australia's Catastrophic Summer - Update. Brenda Rosser. February 2009


rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

I fear that even if something serious is agreed to in Copenhagen, the line "we may as well get used to it" may be the more serious bottom line.

Sorry about the mess around your place.

One Salient Oversight said...

The low pressure system that brought dust onto the East Coast (where I live) was the same one which destroyed trees in Tasmania. It was all part of the same weather system.

I'm not sure if global warming will create deeper low pressure systems at 40 degrees latitude.

There is no real doubt that global warming will result in deeper tropical lows - the region affected by Doldrums will extend outwards from the equator. This, in turn, will result in more tropical cyclones or hurricanes, but will also push high pressure systems further towards the poles, thus reducing the incidence of Extra-tropical cyclones along the 40 degree latitude mark.

In practice, this should result in more low pressure systems travelling south of Tasmania and less going through Bass Strait.

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