“It won’t come as a surprise to many that this summer will be our warmest on record,” Andrew Watkins, manager of long-range forecasting at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, said in a statement released Thursday.
Australia’s summer got off to a sizzling start when a record-setting heat wave caused temperatures to spike up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia near Christmas. Feverish weather persisted into January, which saw heat wave after heat wave and was eventually declared Australia’s hottest month ever. In New South Wales, residents sweated through the hottest night the country had ever recorded when the mercury failed to drop below 97 degrees.
The Australian Open suffered, as did thousands of flying foxes that lost their lives to the heat. Mass dieoffs of fish in the Murray-Darling river basin were at least partially attributable to the temperature, according to the AFP. Parts of Australia burned up, including Tasmania.
The weak El Niño burbling in the tropical Pacific is one possible contributing factor—El Niño can tilt the meteorological odds in favor of warm weather in southeast Australia—but so, clearly, is climate change.
“Scientists have been saying for decades that climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels is making extreme weather events more severe and more frequent,” Lesley Hughes, an ecologist with the Australian Climate Council, told Earther in an email. “This last summer in Australia is just the latest example.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the onset of fall with cause Australia’s fever to break. Warmer-than-normal conditions are “very likely for almost all of Australia,” according to the Bureau of Meteorology, and there’s a high chance of drier-than-average conditions across eastern Australia. That’s bad news for the country’s agricultural sector, swaths of which have been in the grips of a severe drought for many months.
Unless we make some radical changes, that may become the new normal.