NOAA weather watch 2017: Another scorching summer Down Under

By the end of the Australian 2016/17 summer, more than 205 national weather records were broken, according to climate scientists.

Professor Will Steffen, a scientist with the Climate Council of Australia, and the lead author of the report Angry Summer 2016/17: Climate Change Supercharging Extreme Weather, said it’s a trend that’s likely to continue for years to come.

“Even if we could magically reduce emissions to zero tomorrow, we would still have another decade or two where the climate system plays out its built-in momentum,” he said.

Worldwide, January 2017 was the third hottest beginning to a year since records began 138 years ago, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US, the world’s foremost scientific agency for climate and oceanic research.

The globally averaged temperature over the land and world’s oceans was 0.88°C above the 20th century average of 12.0°C. Only January 2016 (highest) and 2007 (second highest) have been hotter since 1880.

The NOAA’s state of the climate report also revealed that the global land surface temperature was also third highest for the month of January at 1.54°C above the 20th century average of 2.8°C.

At sea, the globally-averaged surface temperature was 0.69°C above the 20th century average of 15.9°C, the second highest for the month, behind the record-breaking year 2016 (+0.80°C) and besting 2015 by +0.08°C.

Australia’s mean temperature for the month was 0.77°C above the 1961–1990 average, and the 17th highest January recorded. NSW had its third warmest January, while Queensland had its sixth warmest on record.

February proved to be even more volatile. The combined average temperature over land and ocean surfaces was 0.98°C above the 20th century average of 12.1°C — a number only topped by the +1.20°C record set in February 2016.

The globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.69°C above the 20th century average of 15.9°C, the second highest for February, behind the record-breaking year 2016 (+0.80°C) and surpassing 2015 by +0.08°C.

Australia’s oppressive summer continued with warmer-than-average temperatures, with a national average 0.33°C above the 1961–1990 average. NSW and Queensland had their highest temperature departure from average since 2004 and 2006, respectively, and the fifth highest on record.

Regionally, NSW had its warmest summer (+2.57°C), surpassing the previous record set in 2006 by +0.13°C. Queensland had its second highest summer (+1.55°C) behind 2006 (+2.07°C).

“If you look at the east of Australia, particularly New South Wales and Queensland, the records that have really been tumbling there are high temperatures, heatwave type records,” Professor Steffen said.

“Over in the west in Perth and up in the Kimberley in the north-west, they’ve been setting extreme rainfall records, so we’ve seen extremes of all types across the continent in the past three months.”

Across the world’s oceans, the December–February average sea surface temperature was 0.66°C above the 20th century average of 15.8°C – the second highest for December–February on record, trailing 2015/2016 by 0.17°C, according to the NOAA.

The Southern Hemisphere summer was also the forerunner to a run of record lows in Antarctica sea ice extent.

The January total was 4.04 million square km, which was 1.19 million square km, or 22.8 percent, below the 1981-2010 average.

This was the smallest tally on record and 280,000 square km smaller than the previous record set in 2006. Most of the Amundsen Sea off the west coast of Antarctica was ice free by early February with near-average ice across other regions, reported the NOAA.

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