Giant heatwave breaks Australian records

23:52, Jan 31 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.
clothesline
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 year of extreme weather has collected a fresh record with January posting the hottest average temperatures for the month on record.

With just a day's data to be collected, the average of maximum and minimum temperatures for the month was 29.7 degrees. That tally was 1.79 degrees above the long-term average.

Short of a remarkably frigid final few hours for the month, January was all but certain to beat the previous record set in 1932, the weather bureau said.

The monthly result means the September-January period was also the hottest on record, beating the previous three highest in 2002-03, 2006-07 and 2009-10.

Those earlier years "were all El Nino and drought years, whereas that hasn't been a factor this time," said Blair Trewin, senior climatologist with the bureau's national climate centre. "That makes it even more remarkable."

Trewin said that while Australia had a variable climate, the recent heat spell should be seen against the backdrop of longer-term warming.

"If you do super-impose your normal variability on a warming background trend, you are going to see more warm extremes and fewer cold extremes," he said.

The rainfall tallies show a mixed picture, with some regions along the east coast reporting well-above average rain, thanks mostly to the remnants of tropical cyclone Oswald, which dumped record rain on many parts of Queensland and New South Wales.

By contrast, parts of Victoria posted record low rainfall for the month, particularly in the south west, Trewin said.

Melbourne's tally of eight millimetres - about one-sixth of the city's average - placed it within the driest 10 per cent of annual records dating back to 1855.

Sydney's Observatory Hill collected 138 millimetres of rain in January - most of it falling in the 24 hours to Tuesday morning - or about one-third more than the average for the month, said Brett Dutschke, senior meteorologist at Weatherzone.

HEATWAVE

The massive heatwave in the first half of the month prompted the bureau to add extra colours to its heat charts in case temperatures climbed above 50 degrees Celsius.

While the new colour scheme of purples and pinks for 50-52C and 52-54C has yet to be used, the country did smash previous records dating back to 1910 for days in a row of average maximums above 39C (seven) and the hottest area-average mean temperature at 32.36C.

One of the month's more notable records was Alice Springs, which notched up 17 days in a row over 40C.

In 1972-73, the previous time Australia experienced such a broad-based heatwave, the town managed 17 days straight over 39.5C, Trewin said.

While the big wet brought cooler temperatures in some east coast regions towards the end of the month, unusual wind patterns triggered hotter-than-usual weather to north Queensland. Cairns, for instance, saw the mercury climb to 38.6C on Tuesday, its hottest day since 1995.

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Australia beach
COOLING OFF: Australians flocked to the beach last month as parts of the country sweltered through a heatwave.

Sydney Morning Herald