Spectators get into a fountain to cool off at the
Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.
As Adelaide yesterday became the hottest city on the
planet for a day, the week-long heatwave that has gripped the
west and southeast of the continent continues to fry Australia.
Temperatures again hovered in the mid-to-high 40s in Adelaide
and Melbourne, and across much of inland South Australia,
Victoria and New South Wales, stretching emergency services
to their limits.
Worse may be in store. While the weekend is expected to bring
relief with a cool southerly change, fire and health
authorities fear today could be their most critical period as
strong, gusty winds drive through the furnace ahead of the
Fire authorities have also warned that the heatwave has
stripped all moisture from bush and grassland, creating a
volatile, dangerous tinder for the remaining six weeks of a
And this may be just the harbinger of deadlier summers ahead.
The Climate Council, now a private organisation after its
federal predecessor, the Climate Commission, was axed by the
new Coalition Government, warns that Australia is facing
hotter, more frequent, longer-lasting heatwaves as the planet
The council yesterday released an interim report on
heatwaves, showing that between 1971 and 2008 the number of
hot days had doubled and the frequency and duration of
heatwaves had increased.
A heatwave is defined as at least three consecutive days
during which temperatures reach into the top 10 per cent of
recordings for a given time of year.
Australia this week has easily met the definition, with many
areas enduring four or five days above 40C.
Adelaide has reached record levels, and Melbourne has now
endured its longest run of above-40C days in a century.
Inland areas of SA, Victoria and NSW have seen the mercury
reach as high as 48C.
The council's report said the frequency of heatwaves would
increase significantly, and last on average up to three days
longer than at present. Maximum temperatures would also rise.
"As greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere
from the burning of fossil fuels, more heat is trapped in the
lower atmosphere," the council said.
"This increases the likelihood that hot weather will occur
and that heatwaves will become longer and more intense."
The continent's southeast would be the hardest hit, including
Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
The council said emergency, health and medical services
needed to start planning now for the increasing intensity of
Services are already struggling to cope. Hospitals in SA and
Victoria have reported a surge in heat-related admissions,
health and welfare services are being pushed to ensure the
safety of the young, the aged and the chronically ill, and
train services have been hit.
All kindergartens and childcare centres in Adelaide were
closed and power supplies in SA and Victoria have been
disrupted by the surge in demand for air conditioning and
increased demands on the national grid from other states.
In Victoria, Premier Denis Napthene urged people to cut
electricity use to a minimum as peak electricity demand in
the two states neared record levels.
Power authorities have warned of more potential cuts that
could affect 100,000 Victorians and tens of thousands more in
Fire services have been fighting hundreds of outbreaks in SA,
Victoria and NSW, many started by lightning strikes, with a
20km-wide blaze near the western SA coastal town of Ceduna,
and several in Victoria potentially threatening towns in the
Wimmera and Mallee regions.
- Greg Ansley