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Scientists warn Australian rain storms are getting more extreme faster than expected

Stephanie Bedo, August 2, 2018 7:00PM news.com.au

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A thunderstorm near Townsville, Queensland. Picture: istock media_cameraA thunderstorm near Townsville, Queensland. Picture: istock

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Scientists  have been “severely* underestimating*” our short thunderstorms, which are set to get worse.

The latest rainfall research on Australia shows how heavy and quick rain storms are becoming more intense* more quickly than expected.

This means more flash floods, severe water surges* in urban areas and bigger dry and wet extremes in general.

A team of international scientists, led by Newcastle University in the UK and involving the University of Adelaide, studied intense rain storms in Australia over the past 50 years and discovered they were much bigger than expected.

They found the amount of water falling in thunderstorms is increasing at a rate two to three times higher than expected, with the most extreme events showing the biggest increases.

This is a news report of an extreme rain event in May in Hobart, Tasmania

Associate Professor Seth Westra, of the University of Adelaide, warned this meant we could see worse problems in the future.

“This large increase has implications* for the frequency and severity of flash floods, particularly if the rate stays the same into the future,” Associate Professor Westra said.

“It seems counter intuitive* when large parts of Australia are now in drought, but we need to remember Australian droughts are often broken by severe floods.

“We have always been a country of weather extremes, and it seems that climate change is causing both the dry and wet extremes to intensify.”

The aftermath of flash flooding in Cairns, Queensland in March. More than 40 people were rescued from floodwaters at two Cairns caravan parks as ex-cyclone Nora dropped 100mm worth of rain in about a minute. Picture: AAP media_cameraThe aftermath of flash flooding in Cairns, Queensland in March. More than 40 people were rescued from floodwaters at two Cairns caravan parks as ex-cyclone Nora dropped 100mm worth of rain in about a minute. Picture: AAP

A dry period is affecting 99 per cent of New South Wales.

Below average rainfall since April 2017 has been made worse by warm, dry weather, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

September 2017 was the driest September on record, while September 2016 was the wettest September on record.

Two-thirds of Queensland and farmers in parts of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia are also suffering.

Heidi Taylor, 7, kicks up dust on the family farm outside Coonabarabran, NSW, where farmers are battling drought that many locals are calling the worst since 1902. Picture: Getty Images media_cameraHeidi Taylor, 7, kicks up dust on the family farm outside Coonabarabran, NSW, where farmers are battling drought that many locals are calling the worst since 1902. Picture: Getty Images

The study in the journal Nature Climate Change showed that the situation was worse in the tropical north where researchers expected an increase in severity of seven per cent but returned a “highly concerning” 20 per cent.

There was severe flooding at Ingham in North Queensland in March. Picture: AAP media_cameraThere was severe flooding at Ingham in North Queensland in March. Picture: AAP

Associate Professor Westra said the changes were well above what engineers planned for in stormwater and flood management.

The study looked at rainfall extremes between 1990-2013 and 1966-1989, from 107 stations around Australia.

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GLOSSARY

severely: to an intense degree or amount

underestimating: not expecting as much

intense: severe

surges: sudden, powerful movements or rises

implications: the likely results

counter intuitive: the opposite to what’s expected

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1. What time period did the study cover?

2. What are Australian droughts often broken by?

3. How much of NSW is extremely dry?

4. What other states are experiencing extremely dry conditions?

5. How many weather stations were included in the study?

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