Mercury rising: Our years get warmer

THE only thing Katrina Warren loves as much as a rainy day is a hot and sunny day.

Those scorching February days, as much as November's rainy days, mean more customers at the Ballina Fair centre manager's airconditioned shopping centre.

"We do notice it, definitely; especially with the older population," Ms Warren said. "We get the occasional older person come in and sit there all day and then go home when it's cooler."

It's a practice not confined to the elderly. Ms Warren said February 21, the hottest day of 2004 in Ballina, was also the shopping centre's busiest day for that month.

And those hot days are something Ms Warren and the rest of the Northern Rivers may be in for more of; with Bureau of Meteorology end-of-year figures showing 2004 brought higher-than-average temperatures across the region.

According to the bureau figures, the Northern Rivers was, on average, between half-a-degree and one degree warmer than it was supposed to be in 2004.

And we weren't the only ones. Most of eastern, central and southern Australia ranged between half and one-and-a-half degrees above normal and Sydney copped its hottest year since the bureau started keeping records in 1858.

The local figures also come on top of records dating back to 1910, which show a small but steady rise in temperatures across the nation.

Bureau climatologist Ann Farrell said, while long-term figures appeared to agree with global warming theories, it was impossible to tell whether our warm year was linked to the greenhouse effect.

When it came to measuring the weather, she said, there was nothing rarer than an 'average' day.

"While there's an average, or a moving average -? there's always fluctuations from side to side and it can take just a few weather events to change it," she said.

"One big rain producing system can suppress temperatures a bit; similarly you can get a few hot events, like we had that day in February last year, where a little run of days can make a big difference.

"All these things are just down to the vagaries of the weather and they can make a difference to each set of averages."

The long-term trend towards higher temperatures meant more than uncomfortable days and packed shopping centres.

The CSIRO has predicted a rise in temperature of two degrees on the Northern Rivers by 2030 and of 6.4 degrees by 2070, meaning more mosquitoborne diseases, and bigger and more violent storms.

We got our share of that in 2004. After starting the year with heavy rains and minor flooding the region had little rain from the start of winter until the storm season arrived with a vengeance.

Only a month ago a 'super cell' storm ripped across Lismore and Wollongbar, uprooting trees, bringing down powerlines and tearing roofs from buildings in a few minutes.

Storm chaser Michael Bath said there were other, less publicised storms; such as a small but violent hail storm near Coraki that smashed the windscreen of his car in 15 places in less than a second.

However, Mr Bath agreed with Ms Farrell when it came to reading the size and frequency of storms, saying there was such variation from one year to the next it was impossible to tag a year as average or unusual.

The CSIRO's predictions warn of dwindling water supplies and damage to farm crops and natural ecosystems.

Environmentalist Dailan Pugh said the changes would ultimately push out many local species. Those most threatened by global warming included the rare, and only recently discovered, Nightcap oak and the tiny pouch frog, which lived in damp forest leaf litter.

However, changes in the weather also meant changes in our behaviour and Richmond police local area commander Superintendent Bruce Lyons said he preferred the weather cool.

Traditionally, the summer months were also when police were busiest, with alcohol-related and violent crimes; partly due to the holiday season and partly due to the heat.

"When it's hotter, people are more likely to get hot under the collar and lose their temper," he said.

"Whether climate change will have an impact on crime, I don't know; but generally, the summer time is busier than the winter time."

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