The worst heat wave to strike Australia in a century is due to climate change. That was the blunt message from their government this week as the country struggled to cope with the heat-related chaos, including buckling rail lines, numerous heat related deaths and sweeping power blackouts.
"Eleven of the hottest years in history have been in the last twelve, and we also note, particularly in the southern part of Australia, we're seeing less rainfall," said Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. "All of this is consistent with climate change, and all of this is consistent with what scientists told us would happen."
The searing heat has topped 43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) in Melbourne for the third straight day – and the first time in recorded history.
Over 500,000 homes and businesses were left without power as the demands from air conditioners overwhelmed the electrical grid and exploded an electrical substation in the city. The blackout shut down the entire train service in Melbourne, trapping people in elevators, blocking roads as traffic lights failed, and forcing hospitals to turn away patients.
The Australian Open Tennis match had to suspend games due to heat. The government was passing out water bottles of commuters and urging the elderly to stay indoors. Over 20 heat related deaths have occurred in the country so far. Residents at one nursing home started putting their clothes in the freezer to cope with the scorching temperatures.
All of this is a sign of things to come according to scientists. Most of the south of the country is gripped by unprecedented 12-year drought. The Australian Alps have had their driest three years ever, and the water from the vast Murray-Darling river system now fails to reach the sea 40 per cent of the time. Harvests have fallen sharply.
It will get worse as global warming increases. Even modest temperature rises, now seen as unavoidable, are expected to increase drought by 70 per cent in New South Wales, cut Melbourne's water supplies by more than a third, and dry up the Murray-Darling system by another 25 per cent.
Professor David Karoly of the University of Melbourne said last week: "The heat is unusual, but it will become much more like the normal experience in 10 to 20 years."
"It is clear that the current public transport system is not able to cope and it is also clear that the water supply system is stretched," said Karoly. “The health services and the road system are also obviously stretched to their limits. The system can't cope now, and it is just going to get much worse."
The weird weather is not limited to Australia. California is facing the worst drought in its history. Over a million were left without power in US due the worst ice storm in Kentucky’s history. Millions face food shortages in Africa due to climate change-related drought.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather...