Here I sit on another insufferably hot night in Adelaide in a home with single A/C unit in one room. That room currently has my sleeping children as the bedrooms are too hot for sleeping. It also has the TV, leaving me at something of a loose end as I solo-parent on this Sunday evening.
In this last fortnight of stinking heat my wife and I have been trying to recall if it were this hot when we were kids. Summer used to feel leisurely. This year, especially with kids, it feels tiresome and occasionally hazardous. Days exceeding 40 deg C are a memory of something special from when I was young. Now they are commonplace. Or so it seems. Are we remembering correctly? How does our sense of times past compare with the data?
Our local weather station has reliable temperature data since 1977 (I was born in 1978, my wife in 1977, so that’s perfect). I have just grabbed the Tmax data to look at days ≥ 40° C by calendar year. Here they are:
So it seems memory serves pretty well actually. In the years of our respective births, not a single day met or exceeded the 40° C threshold. Similarly in our childhood years, on three further occasions the threshold was not met (1984, 1992, 1995), and on five of the years before I turned 18 the threshold was only met once.
My son, born 2008, is in his 7th year on earth. The tallies for his years are 5, 12, 5, 2, 4, 7, 7* (we still have February and December of this year to come). It would appear he has been born into a different climate.
Of course it’s the hot nights that really break us. Here, using ≥26 deg C minima, we see a similar story.
So far, so good. Our memories are spot on. It is worth noting the hump between 1980 and 1983. We were alive, but not old enough to remember much, and these were hot years. The inter-decadal climate variability that Australia is known for is on show. There were famously bad bushfires in Adelaide in this period (colloquially known as Ash Wednesday). Had I chosen a shorter data set, say from my first year of school (1984) my result would have been a much greater upward trend. So it’s clear memory and folk knowledge ought not be given priority over data!!!
One last check is in order for a stinking Sunday night, and that’s the El Nino effect. Those wonderful people at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology give me a season-by-season summary of the events. This is concerning. During 2006-07 and 2009-10, where conditions were as hot and more so than the 1980-1983 period, Australia was strongly affected by weak El Nino seasons. By contrast in 1982-1983 Australia was very strongly affected by a very strong El Nino.
In the short span of my life, it would appear I have lived through an altering of climate. It really is getting hotter down under, and it would seem safe to expect more and worse in future for quite some time to come.
We need to adapt, and we need to implement big mitigation solutions, fast, to make the future something we can reasonably adapt to.
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For anyone wishing to replicate this for their location, here are some steps to follow:
- Visit http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/data/ . Choose temperature data
- Locate your relevant weather station
- Hit “Get Data” button down the bottom. New window will open
- In the new window click the link “All years of data” in the top right. You will get a downloaded .csv file. Open it.
- Select all the data and Sort by Maximum Temperature, Largest to Smallest
- Highlight the records above your threshold. Copy to a new tab
- Sort again, this time by Year, Smallest to Largest
- Create a list of calendar years. and take a count (manually, or using the COUNT formula) of records for each year, inputting the result in your new list.
- Create a chart and share the results!