A historical perspective on Australian temperature extremes




Ashcroft, Linden
Whetton, Penny

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Global temperature increases are most clearly detected in the shifting distribution of extreme events. Australia's warming climate has resulted in signifcant changes in the frequency of temperature extremes, with a general increase in heatwaves and a reduction in the number of cold days. Here, we present the longest historical analysis of daily Australian temperature extremes and their societal impacts compiled to date. We use a newly consolidated early instrumental dataset and a range of historical sources for the South Australia region of Adelaide-the nation's driest state, containing the most heatwaveafected city in Australia-to investigate any changes in the characteristics of daily temperature extremes back to 1838. We identify multidecadal variability in heatwave and snow event frequency with a peak in the early twentieth century, with an overall decrease in cold extremes and an increase in heatwaves in the region over the 1838-2019 period. Documentary and instrumental records show a decrease in the number of snow events in Adelaide, and a clear increase in the number of heatwaves since the late twentieth century. To gain dynamical insight into historical extremes in South Australia, detailed case studies are presented to compare the synoptic characteristics of historical hot and cold extremes and their impacts. We place a particular emphasis on lesser-known events of the pre-1910 period and rare low-elevation snowfall. Signifcantly, this is the frst study to provide long-term evidence for a reduction of low-elevation snow events and cold outbreaks in Australia. Finally, a discussion is provided on the value and limitations of using historical instrumental and documentary data to assess long-term changes in Australian temperature extremes and their potential to improve future climate change risk assessment.



Australia, Adelaide, Temperature, Extremes, Heatwaves, Cold extremes, Snow, Historical climatology



Climate Dynamics


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Open Access

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