In April 2009 the Los Angeles Times ran the headline: “What will global warming look like? Scientists point to Australia”. Nearly two years on - the events unfolding in Australia – record-breaking droughts, killer bushfires and devastating floods – gave a snapshot of our future in a globally warmed world.
The floods that have led to most of Queensland being declared a disaster zone are a disturbing reminder that even one of the richest countries in the world is not safe from the devastation of natural disasters.
Though you can’t make a direct link between Australia’s killer floods and climate change, they do hold a warning for the future: Scientists predict such extreme weather events will increase both in intensity and frequency as the planet warms.
Raging floodwaters have swamped thousands of homes and businesses in Queensland, leaving at least 25 people dead and dozens more missing since late November. Rail lines and highways have been washed away in what is shaping up to become Australia’s costliest natural disaster.
“The Earth is delivering a message to us. And the message is that more extreme weather is becoming the norm rather than the exception,” said John Magrath, a climate change researcher at British charity Oxfam.
Droughts and floods are expected to become more severe as global temperatures climb. Less clear is the impact on wind patterns and ocean currents, factors that could alter climate in potentially dramatic ways not fully understood yet.
Most atmospheric scientists attribute most of the warming seen in recent decades to gases released into the air by industrial processes and gasoline-burning engines.
Australia’s floods, which started in late November, have been linked to the La Nina weather phenomenon, which refers to cooler than normal surface sea temperatures in parts of the Pacific, causing disruptions in weather patterns. La Nina occurs naturally, and the link to climate change remains unclear, said Omar Baddour of the World Meteorological Organization.
Why do you think El Nino and La Nina trigger weather chaos?
The writer, Victoria Kenrick works at Allen & York, a leading Energy Recruitment Consultancy that is particularly focused on Renewable Energy, Low Carbon and Climate Change, as well as Sustainability, BREEAM and Waste to Energy.
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