Ice floats on the Bransfield Strait in Antarctica
The reports 2023 edition details 11 major disasters including vanishing Antarctic sea ice. Image by AP PHOTO
  • environmental issue

‘People forget’: experts chart year of extreme weather

Tracey Ferrier February 29, 2024

Every year, dedicated scientists have the grim task of compiling a master list of climate calamities that have befallen Australia.

It’s a miserable chronicle of extreme events but the scientists who put it together say it’s essential reading.

Because people forget and forgetting is dangerous in the face of escalating climate threats that demand preparation.

The annual State of Weather and Climate Extremes report is co-written by more than 30 scientists and researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.

The 2023 edition, released on Thursday, details 11 major disasters including extreme flooding in three states, vanishing Antarctic sea ice, a snow season that died early, metres of rain from a cyclone in Queensland, and fires that rolled into floods in a single week in Victoria.

It’s hoped packaging up key events in a digestible form will help people understand what’s happening in the environment, and think about how they can prepare for what lies ahead.

“What was unusual about 2023 is how intense some of these events were and how they kept pushing records,” centre director Andy Pitman says.

While it’s challenging to determine the cause of each extreme event, he says they seem to have occurred with increased frequency in 2023.

“Some of them were occurring one after the other or close to each other. These temporally and spatially compounding events had a substantial impact on our environment and were difficult for us to deal with,” Professor Pitman says.

Overall, 2023 was the eighth hottest year on record in Australia, with temperatures almost 1C above the 1961-1990 average; winter was the warmest since records began in 1910, and September was the driest on record.

“What scientists bring to the table is more and more evidence of what we already know,” Prof Pitman says.

“We need to act based upon observations and existing knowledge.”

He says that means halting carbon emissions, investing heavily in adaptation, and for every day Australians, encouraging a focus on preparation.