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The year that was (hot)

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Climate change

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The world has just experienced the warmest decade on record, new climate data has confirmed, with 2009 being a record-breaking year full of unexpected extremes for Australia in particular.

Just released, the data compiled by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the official United Nations' voice on weather, climate and water, puts 2009 tentatively as the fifth-warmest year on record, pending more complete data for the remainder of the year. The global combined sea and surface air temperature for the year was up as much as 0.44°C on the 1961-1990 average of 14°C.

Above-record temperatures were recorded in most parts of the world throughout the year, with only North America experiencing conditions cooler than average.

In Australia, maximum temperatures well exceeded normal ranges, with measurements in some areas reaching as much as 7°C above monthly norms. Of particular note, Victoria recorded it's hottest temperature at a blistering 48.8°C, and overall, the nation's maximum temperature recording jumped by 3.2°C - the largest ever increase recorded for any month.

"In Australia, we actually had a fairly cool start to the year," said David Jones, head of climate analysis at Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, "but we really made up for that in the last six months."

We have just experienced the warmest winter-spring in the history of our climate data, he said, and though there's still a bit of data outstanding, "it's likely this will be the second or third warmest year in Australia on record."

And Neville Nicholls, a climate expert from Monash University who assisted with the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report on climate change, said that the latest warming figures were of concern in more ways than one.

We should never forget that "climate kills", he said. "We're not just concerned about a slow, two degrees warming over the next twenty or thirty years...the climate's greatest impact always comes from the things we didn't see coming."

And there were plenty of deadly events this year in Australia that we didn't see coming, he said, pointing towards the Black Saturday fires in Victoria at the start of the year, the doubling of Adelaide's heatwave duration and the succession of record-breaking days of heat in several states.

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