Extreme Climate Events in Gippsland 2023/4

EGCAN booth at Orbost Sustainability Festival

The effects of climate change on extreme weather have been visible for a number of years in Gippsland but more so in the last 12 months. The Climate Council noted that “Australia’s driest three months on record (August to October 2023) was followed immediately by a month of well above average rainfall in Victoria. An early and ferocious fire season in Gippsland, Victoria was followed almost immediately by extreme rainfall and flash flooding.” This the Council referred to as ‘whiplash’ climate events – of having a distinct extreme weather event closely following another. Thus we had an extremely dry winter with early spring bushfires at Briagolong and Loch Sport. Then the fires were doused by heavy rain that led to moderate floods. Note that these fires were not the earliest recently experienced with an August bushfire at Marlo about 2017.

On the subject of floods, the Climate Council added “Much of the flooding we’ve experienced this summer has been the result of short, intense downpours that catch communities off guard, and can lead to dangerous flash flooding.” Such was the event that swept through the Buchan Caves campground on Boxing Day 2023 sadly resulting in two fatalities. More than two inches of rain fell in 30 minutes, Vehicles were under water, people were rescued from a nearby bridge, and the campground was trashed. Cr Mendy Urie and the East Gippsland Shire Council CEO Anthony Basford noted the influence of climate change. Cr Urie stated “I think people’s understanding of climate change is changing, even over the past six months, 12 months…But I think we need to be even more aware.”

Whilst the Buchan floods were localised the storms that crossed Gippsland on the evening of 13 February were widespread. In particular there was a severe wind which lasted only a few minutes causing trees and branches to fall and power lines to be cut across the region. The power outages themselves were chaotic with some areas of Bairnsdale unaffected but the centre of town was without power for 24 hours. In town, there were no traffic lights, no mobile phone communications, and no electronic payments – just another warning of the climate emergency. Places like Metung and Mirboo North were extremely hard hit with some residences without power for a week or more.

Most recently, in what is likely to be the warmest year on record globally, we have just had the Labour Day weekend declared a heatwave across south-east Australia, with temperatures 10 degrees or more above average. As well there were associated fire bans and cancelled events including the Moomba Parade. Somewhat ironically, heat closed down the Sustainability Festival event at Orbost (image) at one pm on the Monday.

All of these extreme weather events have been influenced by climate change and although the exact amount caused by our warming world currently cannot accurately be estimated. The influence of global heating on our extreme weather events becomes obvious as their numbers increase in severity and become more common, as they have in the last year in Gippsland. We are in a climate emergency and urgent action is required.