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Canberra's hailstorm followed a horror bushfire season, but it's unlikely they're related

By Jake Evans, Tuesday January 21, 2020 - 20:27 EDT
ABC licensed image
As this composite photo shows, it has been a season of unusual weather in the ACT. - ABC licensed

Yesterday Canberra was thrashed by a hailstorm that lasted little more than 10 minutes.

And after weeks of the , it felt to many like a flow-on effect from the summer of fires.

But the wild storm was more likely just a result of "bad luck", according to one climate change expert, who also spent a career as a meteorologist.

More than 15,000 insurance claims have already been made across Canberra, a record number from a storm the .

In fact, it was so fierce that solar panels designed to withstand hailstorms were broken.

"They do have to withstand hail tests in order to be sold," solar panels expert Michelle McCann said.

But yesterday's hailstones were so large, many were double the size of those used in minimum-standard hail tests.

That hail was pelted at homes and cars at gusting speeds up to 116km/h.

Dr McCann said she expected to hear more panels would be lost, as many would have suffered microcracks, which will grow over time as the panels heat and cool.

This storm can't be directly attributed to climate change

Former meteorologist and researcher Clem Davis said the force of yesterday's storm was so great, the hailstones hurled down were the size of a $2 coin.

"That gives an indication of the amount of energy needed to keep the hail up in the sky," he said.

But Dr Davis said it was unlikely that warmer or smokier air from the bushfires contributed to the conditions that made this storm.

"You do get these odd cells that come through from time to time," he said.

"It's just a bit of bad luck more than anything else."

Dr Davis, who has researching the local effects of climate change in Canberra, said it is warmer than it was 100 years ago — and as the region warmed, dangerous weather became more likely.

"One thing we do understand is with increased warming in the atmosphere, you are more likely to get severe weather events," he said.

"You cannot say any one individual event is a result of that warming, but the trend over time is you're likely to get more of these severe events occurring."

Dr Davis said trend data showed Canberra was experiencing warmer and shorter winters, and warmer summers with more extreme heatwaves.

And certainly the recent drought had contributed to more damaged plant life, which was already stressed and unhealthy due to the dry weather.

But in the case of this storm, Dr Davis said the driving force was largely the monsoonal weather up north, a natural consequence of the Indian El Niño.



© ABC 2020

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