Australia is so hot, it's off the scale

00:28, Jan 09 2013
Tasmaniabush fire
A fire at Tasmania's Forcett, 30km from Hobart, sends smoke over Park Beach.
Tasmaniabush fire
Fire burning near Dodges Ferry, a small town in south eastern Tasmania.
Tasmaniabush fire
The settlement of Dunalley, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart, was one of the worst hit by the Tasmanian bush fires.
Tasmaniabush fire
Police Rescue Helicopter crewman Matthew Drumm looks out at the destruction.
Australia heatwave 2013
Exercise groups train at sunrise to beat the heat on Sydney's Bronte Beach as temperatures are expected to reach record highs.
Australia heatwave 2013
Water bombing at Oura, near Wagga Wagga. New South Wales faces its worst fire risk with temperatures predicted to hit the mid to high 40s.
Australia heatwave 2013
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons (C) at the State Operation Centre.
Australian heat
Kutchani, a female lion, eats a frozen milk iceblock at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.
Australian heatwave
Smoke rises from the Yarrabin bushfire burning out of control near Cooma, south of Canberra.
Australia heatwave
A bush fire burning near Cooma, south of Canberra.
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Singed clothes hang from a clothesline in a backyard affected by a bushfire at Boomer Bay, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart.
Australia heatwave
Fire crossing Princes Highway at Deans Gap fire in Shoalhaven, southern NSW.
Australia heatwave
A deserted petrol station, close to a fire south west of Wandandian, NSW.
Australia heatwave
NSW Rural Fire Service crews tackle a deliberately lit bushfire near Bidwill in Sydney's west.
Australia heatwave
Carngham Station, in Victoria, was destroyed in the state's bushfires.
Australia heatwave
A fireman working on flames near Ballarat, Victoria.
Australia heatwave
NSW Rural Fire Service crews water-bombing fires at Bungendore.
Australia heatwave
'Mopping-up" spot fires at Sandhills in Bungendore, Australia.
Australia fires
An aerial photo of the fire threatening the Siding Springs Observatory.
Australia fires
The fire moves in on the observatory in Siding Springs, in rural NSW.
Australia fires
The Siding Spring Observatory the morning after the fire swept through.
Australia fires
Several buildings at the Siding Spring Observatory were damaged.
Australia bushfires
A fire danger sign on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne gives a grim warning to locals.
NSW fire at Coonabarabran
Fire burns alongside the Newell Highway near Coonabarabran, about 350km northwest of Sydney.
Australia bush fires
A children's playground destroyed by the massive bushfire in rural New South Wales.
Australia bush fires
Robina and Felicity Otrupcek standing in front of Robina's home that was water-bombed and remained unscathed as fire burnt through the New South Wales property.
Australia bush fires
The changed landscape of Baradine Road at Coonabarabran, which was hit by one of New South Wales' worst bushfires in history.
victoria bush fires
Trying to keep cool at the Big Day Out in Sydney.
victoria bush fires
Crowds at Wanda Beach as temperatures begin to fall in Sydney.
victoria bush fires
Swimmers and sun bathers at Victoria Park Pool, in Sydney's Glebe.
victoria bush fires
Sydneysiders cool off in Botany Bay near Yarra Bay.
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Frantic efforts to damp down properties as the fire approaches.
victoria bush fires
Firefighers battling a bushfire in Aberdare, New South Wales.
Ku-Ring-Gai
A fire burns in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, north of Sydney.

Australia's ''dome of heat'' is becoming so intense, temperatures are off the charts - literally.

When the nation's weather bureau model started churning out predictions for next Sunday and Monday of more than 50 degrees, chart producers quietly extended the scale beyond the level previously used.

It showed those days as deep purple in parts of South Australia - indicating 50-52 degrees Celsius. As yet, the new maximum scale of 52-54C - to be coloured pink - does not feature.

"It's because we've been going off the scale," said David Jones, head of the bureau's climate monitoring and prediction unit.

However, the zones of purple have since disappeared from forecast charts for the next few days.

Weather projections made more than a few days out are, by their nature, less reliable, said Aaron Coutts-Smith, NSW manager for climate services at the bureau.

The predictions, made yesterday, were "a little too emphatic", he said.

That's not to say Australia's massive heatwave is showing much sign of cresting.

The country posted a record average maximum on Monday of 40.33C and although the latest indications suggest yesterday's tally may have fallen short of setting a new peak, it will likely be among the top handful of hottest days on record.

Including Tuesday, the country will have posted four of the hottest 10 days on record in 2013 - a year barely a week old.

And while coastal areas, particularly in the south-east will see some relief to the extreme heat and fire conditions, the giant heat cell over central Australia has days to run.

"We're not anticipating any significant clearing of that hot air," Coutts-Smith said.

Australia weather map
DEEP PURPLE: The Australian Bureau of Meteorology's interactive weather forecasting chart shows off its new colours.

Forecasters expect Sunday and Monday to provide the next chance of 50C-plus - and for the possible appearance of that new purple shade to the country's observed weather charts, not just the forecast maps.

Ben McBurney, a meteorologist at Weatherzone, says outback towns ranging from Bourke and Cobar in NSW to Moomba, Oodnadatta and Marree in South Australia are all candidates.

"There's potential for Bourke to reach 48-49 degrees and may get to 50 degrees on Sunday or Monday," McBurney said, "which is quite scary when you think of it."

Another record that was smashed on Monday was Australia's mean temperature. The country averaged 32.23C, eclipsing the previous record - set on December 21, 1972 - of 31.86C.

The temperature at Sydney's Observatory Hill hit 42.3C, its hottest since New Year's Day 2006 and the fifth hottest day since records began in 1858.

So far, one of the country's longest-standing records is unchallenged - the 50.7C at Oodnadatta Airport, South Australia, on January 2, 1960. But even that peak is under threat with the heat likely to re-intensify in coming days.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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