Days of extreme heat in Australia now 12 times more likely than extreme cold: study

Record hot days are now 12 times more likely in Australiathan days of record-breaking cold, and the ratio is increasing as rising greenhouse gases trap ever more heat on the planet, according to new research.
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Farmer Steve Osborn cooling off at his pumpkin farm in Maitland, NSW. Photo: Peter Stoop

During the first 50 years of reliable national temperature records covering 1910-1960, days of extreme heat occurred as often as days of extreme cold.

However, this ratio rose to two-to-one between 1960 and 1980 in Australiaand increased toabout seven-to-one for 1980-2000 before stepping up further to 12-to-one for the 2000-2014 period, Sophie Lewis and Andrew King of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science,wrote in a paper published inGeophysical Research Letters.

Melbourne beaches during a heatwave in January this year. Photo: Wayne Taylor

“The increase in hot records is likely to be related to the warming from greenhouse gases,” Dr Lewis, a research fellow at the Australian National University, said.

Given the level ofgases such as carbon dioxide and methane are going to rise further, “in the future,it’s likely we’ll see an increase in [the hot-cold record] ratio”, she said.

The ratio of temperature extremes was more marked during the cooler seasons, with afaster drop of record cold days than at other times of the year.

Night-time warm temperature records were also being broken more frequently than daytime ones, the researchers found.

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