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Heatwave kills thousands of birds — this was climate change in 1932

Trawling through our National Archives, Lance Pidgeon has found stories of how a heatwave in 1932 was so extreme that it caused mass bird deaths across outback Australia. The PDF is posted on Warwick Hughes blog. As Lance says, imagine the headlines if that had happened 80 years later.  Presumably some would blame coal, airconditioners, and SUV’s for “killing billions of birds”. These old newspaper records also raise questions about our national temperature databases. Things appeared to be hotter then, than history now records them? I’ve only had time for a quick look and a cut and paste.

Great numbers were killed alone by the fortnightly train to Alice Springs. These fell exhausted on the railway line. A large number flew into the fans in the carriages and perished. Thousands fell exhausted in water pools and were drowned. A letter from Minnie Downs told of the death of thousands of birds on one day. The temperature that day was 125 degrees in the shade— and there was no shade. One woman at Tarcoola filled a 40-gallon drum, with shell parrots in one afternoon. Trees actually snapped under the strain of flight after flight of birds which swarmed exhausted on them. More than 60,000 dead parrots, it was estimated, were in one dam. Dams and wells for hundreds of miles were piled with dead birds. In places the dead birds were lying two feet deep over the ground. Almost every bushman is a bird lover, and they saved thousands of their feathered friends.”

Note “figures run into billions.” and “The temperature that day was 125 degrees in the shade “. The original stories from the “Mammologist” and more here.

 The birds had  been doing well and spread farther north than normal… I gather some bounties had even been offered to cull them, but the heat appeared to do the job far more effectively than human hunters.

“From one of his dams he said he took out and burnt about five tons of Parrots. ‘ We made a net with wirenetting,’ he said, ‘and dragged it from one side to the other and then extracted the birds, as the fisherman does his fish.” From here.

There was a human toll from the 1939 heatwave too, more than a hundred people expiring.

The heat covered a huge area. Reports began to come in of phenomenal temperatures. The heatwave stretched far and wide. From Western Australia here to Tasmania, the papers all began to report the heat.

Lance finds many instances where newspaper describe record temperatures (121 – 126 F which is in the order of 50C+!)  that don’t match current BOM data. Like this:

 The Adelaide Advertiser, Sydney Morning Herald and Burnie advocate preserve the incredible high temperatures recorded at places like Ouyen on the 27th of January at 124 Degrees F (51.1 Degrees C). Here , Here and Here. For some reason that record is a no show at the BOM here. Note also that the Ouyen temperature is hotter than the BOM’s Australian record maximum temperature here.

Thanks to Lance for doing all the work, and Warwick Hughes  for hosting the 5 page PDF.

I’m still at the Gold Symposium in Sydney. Most enjoyable. Good to meet the skeptics here too 🙂

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