… in our hottest year
By KIERAN FINNANE
Walking in the wind shadow at the foot of the southern Mount Gillen range yesterday my face was getting red, my hair, damp on my forehead; the shirt beneath my backpack was sticking to my skin. And this was a winter’s day!
It was more comfortable as we got higher, climbing up through one of the gulleys where there were still traces of water seeping from the rocks and a delicious coolness in their shade. But then we had to go down again and onto the flat for a hot trudge back to the car a few kilometres away.
Surely a record for August? But no. That was set only a few years back and I’d already forgotten. On August 22, 2009 it reached 35.2 degrees Celsius at Alice Springs airport. Yesterday it only got to 30.8 degrees. But that’s still eight degrees above the long-term average for August, and our winter thus far is among the warmest on record.
There’s a way to go to beat the record, set in 1991 when the average daily maximum temperature was 22.7 degrees. The average this year from June 1 to August 12 has been 20.9 degrees, compared to the long-term average of 20 degrees.
The plants look happy: At right, spearwood in full bloom high on the range; below left, ptilotus on the flat.
While this warm winter may not be a record breaker, this warm year may yet be. Joel Lisonbee, a climatologist with the Bureau of Meteorology in Darwin, says we are on track in Alice for the hottest year since records began, tied at present with the peak year 2002.
By the end of the year in 2002 the mean daily maximum temperature at Alice Springs airport in 2002 was 30.5 degrees and, unless over the next five and a half months we get below average temperatures, we’ll equal or beat that.
This local fact alone, however, cannot be simply attributed to global climate change, says Mr Lisonbee. It could be due to a dozen other factors, such as warmer sea surface temperatures or stronger sub-tropical highs keeping clouds at bay and allowing temperatures to rise.
To talk about climate change you need to be looking statistically at a bigger picture and across a longer period of time, he says. Australia as a whole is on track for the warmest year on record and this is probably due to climate change. Locally, the fact that at Alice Springs airport eight of the last 10 years have experienced above average maximums is probably also part of a larger trend.
Finally, does this warm winter in Alice mean that we are in for a very hot summer? Sometimes that might follow but not necessarily this year, says Mr Lisonbee, when there is no strong El Nino or La Nina signal occurring in the Pacific Ocean. Smaller scale influences will make the weather this summer and for the time being we’ll have to wait and see what they’ll do.
One of our warmest winters …
… in our hottest year