Climate change is helping make the Australian Open unplayable, by @DavidOAtkins

Climate change is helping make the Australian Open unplayable

by David Atkins

Tennis pros at the Australian Open are hallucinating and getting burned by the extremely high temperatures these past few days, almost certainly affected by increasing climate change that is scorching Australia.

Today will likely be the third day straight that the Olympic Park thermometer gets above 41C. The forecast today for Melbourne is a ball-dropping 44C.

Dancevic said it was "inhumane" to ask players to continue in the relentless heat. British star Andy Murray commented it was a bad look for the sport to have ball boys and girls, players and spectators collapsing.

But does human-caused climate change have anything at all to do with the water bottle-melting heat being endured by the players?

First for the usual caveats. Melbourne gets hot, and it has always experienced extremely hot days.

You can't blame climate change entirely for hot weather, but you can say that it increases the risk of extreme hot weather events occurring. The planet's atmosphere has been loaded with extra greenhouse gases, which gives the analogy of loading the weather dice to increase the chances of you rolling a six - or in this case, experiencing extremely hot days or seeing Snoopy.

Blair Trewin, a senior climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology's National Climate Centre, told me that over the long term, Melbourne experiences 1.3 days above 40C every year.

But he says that between 2001 and 2013, the average across all those years was 1.9 days above 40C.

"Despite what people would have you believe, 40-degree days in Melbourne are not particularly common, and the city has gone as long as five years (1968 to 1973) without having any," he told me by email.

He says that when it comes to "single day extremes" there is a clear increase for the south east of the country, although it is much harder to see any trends in heat waves.

Dr Sarah Perkins is a researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales and specialises in studying heat waves.

I asked her if human-caused climate change was contributing to charred bums and Snoopy sightings at the tennis.

"It's contributing," she says. "In Melbourne we are seeing an increase in the amount of extreme heat – there's a disproportionate change when compared to the 1C increase we've seen in the average temperature for Australia.

"We are also seeing an increase in heat waves not just in Melbourne, but across Australia.

"Of course, summer is naturally hot and extreme temperature events will occur at this time of year. But we're now seeing much more of these events, that last longer, and are hotter. It's this trend that's concerning.

"Because of the background warming that's already there, there is a greater risk now of us seeing these events happen – so in that respect, it's game, set and match.
The changes are smallish now, but are already noticeable and growing at an exponential rate. It's a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but hopefully the impact on many people's sports entertainment will wake them up to the reality of what's going on with our climate.