Wild Storms in Australia May Be Due to Global Warming

Trend seen in more frequent and intense heavy rainfall events over Australia, according to CSIRO climate expert

Published: 01-Feb-2004

class=storytext>ELIZABETH JACKSON: Wild storms that have lashed the east coast of Australia this week could be just a taste of what's to come.

Victoria, Tasmania and south-east Queensland have all born the brunt of ferocious weather this week, which has stranded bushwalkers, cut power to tens of thousands of homes and ripped trees out of the ground.

Climate change experts say the storms may well be the result of latest effects of global warming.

Rachel Carbonell reports from Melbourne.

RACHEL CARBONELL: Unlike northern Australia, Melbourne isn't accustomed to a wet season in summer.

But two freak storms in a month have got locals wondering.

Deb Dunne's pet shop was destroyed in the latest onslaught, water poured through her new roof and caused the ceiling to collapse.

DEB DUNNE: It was raining very heavily, but the extraordinary thing is when we did go outside it was… the whole street everywhere was like it had snowed – we had a bank up of ice. My husband and I in a lighter moment were actually having a snowball fight out the front. I've never known anything like it.

RACHEL CARBONELL: Others like Dave Preston, whose shop was also ruined, had a harder time finding the light side.

DAVID PRESTON: Couldn't stop it, just… (long pause) everything’s gone, it’s just everything is ruined, days and days of work, that’s where the flood level got to, our car’s in the backyard, business, everything, all my daughter’s toys…

RACHEL CARBONELL: South-east Queensland has been hit by four big storms in a week, and parts of north-east Tasmania were cut off by floods.

The Weather Bureau's Ward Rooney says Queensland might be used to tropical storms, but for the southern states it's a bit of a shock.

WARD ROONEY: Those sorts of rainfalls are about the double the monthly average for Melbourne. So really intense rainfall. Tasmania’s also been influenced by exactly the same system, there's been a pretty stationary band of cloud and rain across Tasmania which is associated with that same upper-level low.

RACHEL CARBONELL: So why are such unusually powerful storms lashing Australia's south-east coastline?

Climate change expert with the CSIRO, Penny Whetton, says greenhouse gasses may well be the answer.

PENNY WHETTON: Well, the extreme events we've had just recently, I think there was another one just before Christmas, they're unusual, but from the perspective of a climatologist they're not unprecedented. That being said, however, due to the global greenhouse effect – increasing levels of greenhouse gasses and a warming of the climate – we expect there in the future to be an increase in the intensity and frequency of heavy rainfall events, somewhat like what we've seen recently.

RACHEL CARBONELL: But she says there isn't yet enough evidence to say if this is the beginning of that trend.

PENNY WHETTON: There's been a trend to more frequent or more intense heavy rainfall events over Australia, and we have seen that in quite a number of other parts of the world. It’s just not as strong enough trend at the moment for us to say that it is really unusual and has to be due to the greenhouse effect.

RACHEL CARBONELL: Either way, climate scientists do expect these sorts of storms will become more frequent.

Penny Whetton says it’s another reason to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses. She also says given the damage to property such storms have caused, the way our houses, towns and cities are built, also needs to be reviewed.

PENNY WHETTON: We will need to look at ways to adapt to our changing climate. We can expect there to be changes in climate along these lines in the future, and as infrastructure is renewed and planning is done for that, it makes very good sense to take into account the fact that climate will be changing and that therefore we need to allow for changing risks of extreme events as a result of those changes in climate.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: The CSIRO's Penny Whetton, ending that report from Rachel Carbonell.



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