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Visualizing Climate Change – Australia’s New Colors

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Australian Heat Map
Australian Heat Map

Real meteorology is all numbers, thousands of measurements made every day to quantify barometric pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction, and temperature, among others. Meteorologists take these numbers as well as millions of historical data points and attempt to give us an idea of what’s coming in the next few hours or days.

When you turn on the morning weather report, though, there’s no better way to get across the meaning of these numbers than to convert them into something visual.

Temperature maps are common enough, and it’s easy to visualize what different shades of red translate to different temperatures. Climate change is forcing meteorologists to adjust their color maps.

There are many opponents to the idea of climate change, but climate change can be easily visualized looking at the changing colors of Australia. “In order to better understand what temperatures we might see … we introduced two new colors,” said Aaron Coutts-Smith, manager of climate services at the Bureau of Meteorology.

For decades, the Australian temperature color map stopped at 122°F [50°C] with the color black. There really was no reason to go further than this, because the last time the average temperature in Australia exceeded 102°F was back in 1973 for four days. This past week the average temperature has been over 102°F for six days, and some areas of central Australia are forecast to exceed 122°F.

Australia’s old color map needed to be updated, and so two new colors were added, dark purple and magenta, to visualize temperatures up to 126°F and 129°F. Color can be beautiful, but also helps us to visualize something much uglier, the reality of climate change.

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