Confusing Weather & Climate – A Cold Gippsland Winter? (4.10)

Oz Winter 1

Pub talk often says: “I’m ‘x’ amount of years old and haven’t noticed it getting warmer. Climate change is a load of bull.” Or words to that effect. But this is an anecdotal account of which there are literally billions – not all the same – and limited to the one small place on the earth an individual occupies. It is thus a perception of weather over time. But even that is an imperfect one as it refers only to our waking hours. Climate measures temperatures over 24 hours with accurate records now going back more than 100 years.

Climate also refers to space – so we can talk of a Gippsland climate, or a Victorian climate, an Australian climate or an Earth climate. An article in the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) outlines some of the confusion that arises between weather and climate. Many locals, including some in the media, have been speaking of Gippsland’s cold winter. But it turns out that statistically the eastern half of our region had an ‘average’ winter whilst the west and south was slightly colder. But the big surprise is that this winter turns out to have been Australia’s eight warmest (out of 105) on record. (see map)

The BOM report noted: “Some of the headlines this winter -‘Bitter cold snap’, ‘Icy cold front to hit much of Australia’, ‘Australia’s sunshine state covered in snow’, etc.- may have implied that Australia just survived one of its coldest winters on record…But the station recordings actually show a quite different story. They also highlight a number of challenges that…can be easily lost in personal experiences and local news reporting. These challenges include: considering local conditions within the national picture; how we calculate and characterise a ‘record’; and how recent experiences influence our long-term understanding of climate.”

“It is hardly surprising that people may extrapolate cool conditions in southeast Australia or snowy photos on their television to imagine cold conditions across the whole of the country…As our perceptions can be skewed towards recent experience, we need access to good, long-term data to assist our decision making.”

To the Australian landmass we can add the continents of the earth and the oceans to get a clear picture of how our earth is warming with the enhanced greenhouse effect. It is calculated the oceans absorb more than 90% of the extra heat the earth is retaining. With such a complicated and threatening problem governing bodies should be making their decisions based on ‘best science’. And all those who have ‘an opinion’ on climate change that confuses climate and weather – be they in the media, politics, or your local pub – are very foolish.