Will Steffen, Andrew Stock, Dr David Alexander and Dr Martin Rice

Climate Council

Published date March 8, 2017

Angry Summer 2016/17: Climate Change Super-Charging Extreme Weather

Key Findings

1. The Australian summer of 2016/17 marked the return of the Angry Summer with record-breaking heat especially in the east of the nation. The Angry Summer was characterised by intense heatwaves, hot days and bushfires in central and eastern Australia, while heavy rainfall and flooding affected the west of the country. Noteworthy records from this summer include:

  • In just 90 days, more than 205 records were broken around Australia.
  • The state-wide mean temperature in summer was the hottest for New South Wales since records began, with temperatures 2.57°C above average.
  • Sydney had its hottest summer on record with a mean temperature 2.8°C above average.
  • Brisbane had its hottest summer on record in terms of mean temperature at 26.8°C, equivalent to 1.7°C above average.
  • Canberra had its hottest summer on record in terms of daytime temperatures and recorded temperatures of at least 35°C on 18 days, already far higher than what is projected for 2030 (12 days).
  • Adelaide experienced its hottest Christmas day in 70 years at 41.3°C.
  • Moree in regional New South Wales experienced 54 consecutive days of temperatures 35°C or above, a record for the state.
  • Perth had its highest summer total rainfall on record of 192.8 mm.

2. Climate change is driving hotter, longer lasting and more frequent heatwaves.

  • The 2016/17 extreme summer heat in New South Wales was at least 50 times more likely to occur due to climate change.
  • Protecting Australians from the impacts of summers with relentless extreme heat requires the uptake of cheap, clean and efficient renewable energy and the phasing out fossil fuels.
  • Commissioning new fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas) projects is incompatible with limiting the dangerous impacts of climate change, such as the failure of critical infrastructure.

3. Escalating extreme weather is putting Australia’s ageing energy system under intense pressure.

  • Australia’s energy system is ageing, inefficient and polluting, and during the Angry Summer proved unable to cope with escalating extreme weather, like heatwaves.
  • Days of extreme heat and heatwaves will become even more frequent and severe in Australia, and will increase the risks to critical infrastructure (e.g. electricity), the economy, health and ecosystems.

4. The costs of the extreme heat are clear with reduced work productivity, increasing risk of bushfires and escalating damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

  • The impacts of the last Angry Summer of 2013/14 cost the Australian economy approximately $8 billion through absenteeism and a reduction in work productivity. The economic impact from the 2016/17 Angry Summer has not yet been quantified.
  • Above-average sea surface temperatures this summer have triggered a new bleaching outbreak on the Great Barrier Reef. This follows the worst mass bleaching event in the reef’s history in 2016.
  • Extreme fire weather is increasing in Australia’s southeast. During the most severe heatwave of this recent Australian summer, nearly 100 bushfires were ignited and raged through parts of inland New South Wales.