Australia’s Record-Breaking Temperatures Are Off the Charts—Literally!

“The scale has just been increased today and I would anticipate it is because the forecast coming from the bureau’s model is showing temperatures in excess of 50 degrees.”
—David Jones, head of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology climate monitoring and prediction unit

Australia is currently experiencing one of the worst heat waves it has ever had. The all-time record high temperature for the continent of 50.7 degrees was reached on January 2, 1960 at Oodnadatta Airport in South Australia. For the longest time there was never a need to consider a forecast beyond 50 degrees because temperatures never seemed to get higher than that.

Until now.

Recent temperatures have ranged between 40 and 48 degrees. On colour maps that puts their temperatures into the burnt orange and black range. But recent forecasts have suggested that temperatures might reach up to 54 degrees, smashing the old Oodnadatta record. One problem for forecasters is that they didn’t have a colour to show anything beyond 50 degrees.

Until now.

New colours have been added: deep purple represents 50 to 52 degrees, and pink represents 52 to 54 degrees.

The first six days of 2013 in Australia were among the hottest 20 days on record in terms of average maximums. The national mean temperature record was also broken, reaching 32.33 degrees on January 7, 2012. Tuesday, January 8, 2012 didn’t manage to break any records; it was only the third hottest day in all of Australia’s history.

Accurate records for Australia date back to 1910, but the Bureau considers the most reliable data to be since 1950. And to be fair, the predictions for greater than 50 degree temperatures were for many days away, when forecasting is notroiously more likely to be inaccurate. But there’s still a real chance for these extreme temperatures to be achieved because these conditions aren’t going away anytime soon. As Dr. David Jones from the Bureau of Meteorology said, “The air mass over the inland is still heating up – it hasn’t peaked.

According to Aaron Coutts-Smith, New South Wales manager for climate services at the bureau, “We’re not anticipating any significant clearing of that hot air.

So we’ll be watching what happens with the temperatures in Australia over the next few days. Given that it’s a continent full of deniers and skeptics—similar to the US—and also one of the worst offenders on the planet for emissions per capita, I hope this heat wave makes some people in Australia realize that business as usual isn’t such a good idea.

Perhaps this is a sign that it’s time for a change.

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