CANBERRA: Australia sweltered through its hottest month on record in January and the summer of extremes continued with wildfires razing the drought-parched south and flooding in expanses of the tropical north.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology confirmed the January record on Friday as parts of the northern hemisphere had record cold.
Australia’s scorching start to 2019 in which the mean temperature across the country for the first time exceeded 30 degrees Celsius followed Australia’s third-hottest year on record. Only 2005 and 2013 were warmer than 2018, which ended with the hottest December on record.
Heat-stressed bats dropped dead from trees by the thousands in Victoria state and bitumen roads melted in New South Wales during heatwaves last month.
New South Wales officials say drought-breaking rains are needed to improve the water quality in a stretch of a major river system where hundreds of thousands of fish died in two mass deaths during January linked to excessive heat. A South Australia state government report on Thursday found that too much water had been drained from the river system for farming under a management plan that did not take into account the impact of climate change on the river’s health.
The South Australian capital Adelaide on Jan 24 recorded the hottest day ever for a major Australian city a searing 46.6 C (115.9 F).
On the same day, the South Australian town of Port Augusta, population 15,000, recorded 49.5 C (121.1 F) the highest maximum anywhere in Australia last month.
Bureau senior climatologist Andrew Watkins described January’s heat as unprecedented. “We saw heatwave conditions affect large parts of the country through most of the month, with records broken for both duration and also individual daily extremes,” Watkins said in a statement.
The main contributor to the heat was a persistent high-pressure system over the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand that blocked cold fronts from reaching southern Australia.
Rainfall was below-average for most of the country, but the monsoonal trough has brought flooding rains to northern Queensland state in the past week, leading to a disaster declaration around the city of Townsville.
Queensland’s flooded Daintree River reached a 118-year high this week.
Emergency services reported rescuing 28 people from floodwaters in the past week.
Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2019