The Land Down Under was just a plague of locusts short of going full biblical this weekend. Unusual heat, destructive fires, a raging tropical cyclone, and powerful winds all swept across Australia in the span of 48 hours. Oh, and it snowed in Tasmania.
The weird weather was the result of an active trough of monsoon moisture to the north of Australia and a staunch ridge of high pressure over the eastern half of the country according to Weatherzone.
The former helped fuel Tropical Cyclone Marcus as it raked over the Northern Territory’s coast this weekend with 130 km/h (80 mph) winds and rains. An estimated 18,000 residents are still without power in the coastal city of Darwin. With numerous trees and power lines down, the local government has asked people to stay off the roads if possible. Cleanup could be compounded by another cyclone later this week, though forecasters are still determining its exact track and strength.
The intense ridge of high pressure brought near-record heat to New South Wales and fires in Victoria and Queensland. Sydney topped out at 38.4 degrees Celsius (101 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday, making it the hottest day this late in March since 1940. It also cracked 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday and Monday, marking the first three-day stretch of 30-degree March weather since 1902.
The breadth of the heat was what set it apart from other late season heat waves, though. All capitals in the eastern half of the country hit 30 degrees on Saturday, another rare occurrence that hasn’t happened since 1965 according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
The hot weather also helped create catastrophic fire conditions in the region. In Tathra, a beachfront town about 440 km (273 miles) south of Sydney, wildfires destroyed at least 70 structures.
Further south in the state of Victoria, 300 firefighters battled blazes across 40,000 hectares (98,000 acres). Those blazes were fanned by gusty winds being driven an approaching cold front. Wilson’s Promontory, located on the southern edge of the state, saw gust peak at 122 km/h (75 mph) on Sunday.
“We’re outside summer and we’re going into a summer-type bushfire scenario for two days,” the state’s Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said.
While the eastern half of the continent burned and sweltered, the icing on the wild weather cake was March snow in Tasmania’s highlands because why not.
All the weird weather is enough to make you wonder if, you know, something might be changing. Australia’s Green Party leader Richard Di Natale tied the weekend of extremes to climate change, while making a call to reduce emissions. That sparked a row with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who falsely claimed no single event can be attributed to climate change.
While there hasn’t been research done to attribute this specific batch of fires and heat to climate change, the writing is on the wall for Australia. Heat waves have become more common and intense, increasing the risk of fire weather.
“Sadly, fires like this well into autumn are an increasing part of the southern Australian experience, as we move further towards climate disruption associated with continued increases in human-associated carbon dioxide (and equivalent) emissions,” Grant Wardell-Johnson, head of the Australian Council of Environment Deans and Directors, said in a statement.