Our special report “Hot Month, Hot Year, Hot Planet” in our November/December 2019 issue noted that while Northern Hemisphere residents would probably welcome the forthcoming winter, our friends in Australia might well be dreading their impending summer (2019–2020).
That happened fast.
A heat wave hit Australia in December 2019, echoing those of previous recent summers there. But this one was even more intense: Australia recorded its hottest day on record on December 17, 2019, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said. The average temperature across the country that day was 105.6° F, beating the old record of 104° F on January 17, 2013.
“This hot air mass is so extensive, the preliminary figures show that yesterday [December 17, 2019] was the hottest day on record in Australia, beating out the previous record from 2013, and this heat will only intensify,” bureau meteorologist Diana Eadie said in a video statement on December 18, 2019. On that same day, temperatures soared to 118° F in Birdsville, Queensland, and 116° in Mandora, Western Australia. Bush fires fanned by the high temperatures were creating health problems for many Australians. On December 19, 2019, New South Wales—Australia’s most populous state—declared a seven-day state of emergency as the heat fanned roughly a hundred wildfires. Central Sydney reached a temperature of 102° F, and the outer suburbs reached 108°. Smoke blanketed the city. Air quality levels ranged from poor to hazardous.
By early January, it was a national emergency. Hundreds of wildfires were burning all around the continent. Army, navy, and air force reservists were called out to help. Some evacuations had to be made from sea. Smoke shrouded major cities. Animals died. More than 12.35 million acres of land had burned, with at least seventeen people dead and more than 1,300 homes destroyed.
Eight of Australia’s top ten warmest years have occurred since 2005, and 2019 is likely to join that list.