Australia Records Its Hottest Day. At Least for Now.


It is so hot, birds are abandoning the sky.

Hours after Australia set a record for its warmest day across the continent, with even hotter temperatures in the near forecast, Greg Marshall, a garden designer in Adelaide, said he had found birds of different species gathered on the ground Wednesday, under the shade of trees.

It was 106 degrees.

“I’ve been walking around the parklands, turning on the taps at the bottom of the trees,” he said. The birds — “with their beaks open, all gasping for air,” he said — huddled around the faucets, trying to get a drink.

A national heat wave, triggered by a confluence of meteorological factors that extends well beyond Australia’s shores, pushed high temperatures across the country on Tuesday to an average of 105.6 degrees, or 40.9 degrees Celsius, breaking the record of 104.5, or 40.3 Celsius, set on Jan. 7, 2013.

On Thursday, said Dean Narramore of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the heat will spread even farther across the central and southern parts of the country, like an inkblot blooming and growing on a page.

As the temperatures have risen, so has the threat of fires, which have ravaged large swathes of the country and shrouded Sydney in smoke.

Late monsoons in India, an imbalance in sea temperatures in the Indian Ocean and strong winds have hampered rainfall in Australia. The country was already in the grip of a yearslong drought.

“Friday looks like it will be a very bad day,” Mr. Narramore said, adding that lightning strikes in bush land could start even more fires.

For weeks, Australians on the eastern coast have been living under a total fire ban as bush fires have raged unabated, burning through houses, killing wildlife and making the air dangerous to breathe. The Air Quality Index, which measures pollution, has exceeded 400 in some parts of Sydney. Readings of 100 and above are considered “poor.”

“All of this is connected,” Mr. Narramore said. “A record-late monsoon in India means the rain will be late coming to Australia, it’s the worst fire season we’ve seen across Australia, it’s warming through climate change, and it’s only the third week of summer.”

Forecasters have said that the heat wave could bring temperatures never before seen in Australia.

The highest temperature ever recorded in the country was 123 degrees on Jan. 2, 1960, in Oodnadatta, a remote outback town in South Australia. On Wednesday, the hottest place on the continent was Birdsville, Queensland, which reached 117 degrees.

Nine of Australia’s 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, with last year the third hottest. As the country bakes and burns, the government has come under criticism for refusing to actively address climate change through sharper emissions cuts.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison generated disapproving headlines on Wednesday after it was reported that he had left Australia for a Hawaii vacation as the authorities raised emergency warnings across the country, fires continued to burn and Australians sweltered.

In Perth, a man drew wide attention on social media after roasting pork inside his old Datsun car, whose interior he said reached 178 degrees.

In Adelaide, people were still outside working, delivering parcels and laboring on building sites, Mr. Marshall said. He normally tours one or two of his gardens during a workday, largely for maintenance. On Wednesday, he visited 12.

“Some of the larger ones are really suffering,” he said. “Right now, we’re waiting for the fire. It’s a tinderbox, and everything’s aligning for Friday. It’s pretty bad.”

Source : Nytimes