Lightning crackling and thunder rolling have been familiar sounds in the skies over Orange in the first month of 2019 as summer storms have swept across the region.
While those storms have – luckily – not caused major damage or sparked major fires, thousands of lightning strikes have been recorded over the Orange region.
Individual statistics aren’t available for storms across the region, but one explanation for the apparent increase in thunderstorms could be the warmer weather during January, with the month the warmest on record.
According to Weatherzone meteorologist Thomas Hough, it is not possible to say exactly how many thunderstorms occurred over the state in recent months.
“One stat we can provide relates to Sydney and Canberra airports, however this is only observed storms and there could have been others in the area not witnessed,” Mr Hough said.
“In terms of frequency, there has been not been any increase, however due to this warm season being near-neutral El Nino, thunderstorms that have occurred have generally been more severe.”
Experts say thunderstorms are more common during the summer months when solar energy is at its greatest.
The Bureau of Meteorology said NSW recorded its warmest January on record for mean, maximum and minimum temperatures.
“The north east of the state experienced one of the driest Januarys and Sydney had one of its warmest Januarys on record,” it said.
BoM senior climatologist Dr Andrew Watkins said the heat through January was unprecedented.
"The main contributor to this heat was a persistent high pressure system in the Tasman Sea which was blocking any cold fronts and cooler air from impacting the south of the country,” Dr Watkins said.
"The warming trend which has seen Australian temperatures increase by more than one degree in the last 100 years also contributed to the unusually warm conditions."
Charles Sturt University professor Kevin Parton, who is studying temperature patterns in the Central West, says the number of high temperature days has increased on 20 years ago.
Professor Parton believes there could be a co-relation between the high temperature and thunderstorms.
“My data is for the Orange weather station, but I assume the trend will be similar for the other cities in the region,” he said.
“So far this summer we have had 26 days of above 30 degrees temperature. If you go back to the 1990s, the number averaged 13 days of above 30 degrees.”
Dr Annika Dean, a senior researcher at the Climate Council, says analysis of the larger-scale environments conducive to severe thunderstorms in Australia indicates significant increases in the frequency of these environments in southern and eastern areas.
“Analysis suggests that the annual frequency of potential severe thunderstorm days is likely to rise by 14 per cent for Brisbane, 22 per cent for Melbourne, and 30 per cent for Sydney by the end of the century,” Dr Dean said.
“Despite this, there is no consistent, long-term observational records in relation to trends in either the frequency or intensity of thunderstorms and hail.”
But Dr Dean said extreme weather events including tropical cyclones, extreme rainfall, thunderstorms and extra-tropical cyclones are now occurring in an atmosphere that is packing more energy and carrying more moisture than it did in the 1950s.
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