Australia Continues to Fry Under Scorching Heat Waves

Spectators shielding themselves from the heat at Garden Square in Melbourne during the Australian Open tennis championships on Jan. 25, 2018.
Photo: Aaron Favila (AP)

The second heat wave in two weeks in Southern Australia continued to punish the region, with temperatures in Melbourne hitting 109.4 degrees Fahrenheit (42.8C) on Friday afternoon, and the state of Tasmania struggling to deal with “30 uncontained fires,” according to the Guardian.

Electrical blackouts lasting over two hours affected some 200,000 people in the state of Victoria, and while temperature changes at roughly 2:00 p.m. local time cooled Melbourne, many areas experienced little relief:

With the last semi-final of the Australian Open scheduled for the evening, Melbourne residents were relieved by a cool change at 2pm that lowered temperatures by 12C within 10 minutes.

The duty forecaster at Victoria’s bureau of meteorology, Michael Halfpenny, said the cool change had arrived to south-west Victoria early on Friday afternoon and was finally making its way through to the city.

But parts of the state were still sweltering – Swan Hill, on the south bank of the Murray River, reached 47C [116.6F] at 3pm, and Kyabram, in the Goulburn River Valley, hit 46.7C [116F].

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In East Gippsland near Timbarra, a nearly 10,000-acre (4,000 hectare) fire grew so large on Friday that its 6-mile-plus (10 kilometer) smoke column began generating its own lightning, the Guardian added.

“Today is the worst day that we’ve had for the fire season to date,” Tasmania Fire Service chief officer Chris Arnol told the paper.

Earlier this month, Australia experienced the hottest daily low temperature on record when it reached 97F (36C) in New South Wales on Jan. 17. Sweltering conditions throughout the country have persisted for months, with temperatures up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius) above normal in Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia on Christmas Eve, while “unprecedented” bush fires in Queensland were reported in November 2018.

According to NPR, Australia’s State Emergency Service has declared the ongoing elevated temperatures a threat to public safety, while “the Twitter feed of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology became a stream of all-time-high temperature reports and fire advisories.”

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In addition to the impact on people, wildlife has not fared well—the Central Land Council, which represents Aboriginal peoples in the southern half of the Northern Territory, reported finding 90 dead or dying feral horses in the Ltyentye Apurte Community in the Outback, Motherboard wrote. The council was forced to euthanize an additional 50 horses that were suffering, it said, and said that the fate of another 120 animals that were too unwell to be transported had yet to be determined. ABC reported that pastoralists in Western Australia’s Goldfields area had shot at least 2,500 feral camels, many of which were encroaching on livestock feed and watering ponds.

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Extreme temperatures in November 2018 may have killed as much as one-third of the entire Australian population of spectacled flying foxes, while algal blooms in tandem with poor water management decisions have killed over a million fish in the Darling River in New South Wales, according to the Independent. Researcher Elizabeth Hanna with the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute told NPR, “What we don’t see so predominantly is the koala which fall out of the tree one by one by one.”

The New Zealand Herald reported on Sunday (local time) that the heatwave was now spreading there, with temperatures predicted to be between 85-95F (30-35C).

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Numerous scientific studies have confirmed that climate change, which is driven by worldwide emissions of greenhouse gas from human activity, is making heat waves more common and more devastating. Australia in particular is baking, and all available evidence indicates that the trend won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post