Global warming hits Australia with fires and floods

CANBERRA Thu Jan 3, 2008 1:54am EST

Firefighters extinguish a bushfire in Sydney's northern suburbs October 3, 2007. Australia endured bushfires, floods and record high temperatures in its drought-ravaged foodbowl in 2007 as global warming brought the nation's sixth hottest year on record, the weather bureau said on Thursday. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

Firefighters extinguish a bushfire in Sydney's northern suburbs October 3, 2007. Australia endured bushfires, floods and record high temperatures in its drought-ravaged foodbowl in 2007 as global warming brought the nation's sixth hottest year on record, the weather bureau said on Thursday.

Credit: Reuters/Mick Tsikas

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia endured bushfires, floods and record high temperatures in its drought-ravaged foodbowl in 2007 as global warming brought the nation's sixth hottest year on record, the weather bureau said on Thursday.

The crucial Murray-Darling river basin, home to 2 million people and almost half the country's fruit and cereal crop, had its hottest known year, the Bureau of Meteorology said in its 2007 Australian Climate Statement.

The mean maximum temperature of 28.6 Celsius (83.5 Fahrenheit) was almost a full degree above normal, bringing record average temperatures to the heavily populated southeast, the bureau said, pointing to climate change as the reason.

"The standout year is 2005, which was Australia's warmest year on record, but essentially all the warm years that we've had have been in recent years," climate analysis spokesman David Jones told local radio.

Mean temperatures were above average across Australia every month last year except June and December. Recognizing the threat from climate change, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ratified the Kyoto climate pact as his first official act after he was sworn into office early last month.

But despite widespread drought, a La Nina weather phenomenon bringing cooler temperatures to the Pacific helped lift rainfall to slightly more than average at 497mm.

"Such conditions are usually, but not always, associated with above-average rainfall across much of Australia. However, the 2007 La Nina event was slow to develop and its influence during winter and spring was confounded by a counter influence from the Indian Ocean," the bureau said.

La Nina, meaning "little girl" and the opposite of the El Nino weather phenomenon, brings rains to Australia's east and parts of Indonesia, as well as to the western United States.

The bureau said drought continued in the Murray-Darling basin, an area bigger than France and Germany, which normally provides 90 percent of Australia's irrigated crops and A$22 billion ($19.5 billion) worth of agricultural exports.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the latest bureau figures should silence climate change skeptics in Australia, one of the world's highest per-capita greenhouse gas polluters.

"What the bureau statement today confirms is the urgent need to act on climate change," she said.

Australia's Climate Institute said the bureau data showed global warming was not only about warmer weather, but also wilder and more unpredictable weather such as powerful storm cells and cyclones.

"Unfortunately, the reality is stacking up with all the projections," Chief Executive John Connor told Australian Associated Press. "The projections are for intense storms, flooding, droughts and bushfires and we had all of those."

($1 = A$1.13)

(Editing by Michael Perry and Roger Crabb)

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