Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Sydney's creeping towards its hottest May in history (maybe sort of)

I stepped out of my apartment block this morning, and felt an immediate rush of sadness - it's hot again today, which is pretty annoying. I like the cold, crisp boost you get from stepping out into a wintry chill.

This warm phenomenon is known as a 'winter heatwave' - Sarah Perkins, a researcher at UNSW, writes about this sweaty, relatively annoying trend in The Conversation:

"On each of the past 23 days, the temperature has reached highs in the mid-20s, exceeding 27C on May 25. This is characteristic of November, not May. 
With the exception of May 3, no daily maximum at Sydney’s Observatory Hill has been below 20C. So far, May’s daily maximum temperatures have averaged just under 4C above normal. May 25 was an exceptional 8C warmer than normal."

The Bureau of Meteorology helpfully makes huge quantities of historical data available for free on its website. So, I decided to take a look at Observatory Hill's historical minimum and maximum temperatures for May:



Though there's a still a few more days to go in May, it would seem that it's certainly been the hottest May on record, for Observatory Hill in Sydney.

The more interesting experience for me is extracting a plain, simple historical data set from our national weather bureau, and seeing an inarguable upward trend in temperature variations:


It's really quite odd, to see actual, direct evidence of climbing temperatures. I think it betrays how good we are at both ignoring real trends, and detecting false trends, when it comes to complex, odd things like data sets and long-term patterns. Perkins writes on The Conversation:

"While you might be happy that your Ugg boots can stay in the wardrobe a bit longer, warm winter extremes can have adverse impacts too – and because they happen in the background, they may not become obvious until the damage is already done.  
The growing intensity and frequency of winter warm spells is helping to lengthen Australia’s bushfire season, by drying out fuel. This is particularly concerning when coupled with low rainfall and high fuel loads, similar to the conditions the prompted New South Wales to experience severe bushfires as early as October last year."

 Not only are the forecasted impacts of anthropogenic climate change quite serious, I also really hate the warmth. Lose-lose.

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