Heatwave turns Australia purple

Over the past week many parts of Australia have been influenced by unseasonably high temperatures. Although it is the peak of summer, temperatures have continued to soar above average. So high in fact that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM)  has had to add extra colours to their temperature scale in their colour map.


These high temperatures have been caused by a ridge of high pressure developing across the country bringing dry and settled conditions. In addition to this, the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) pattern is beginning to turn more towards La Nina bringing warmer sea temperatures to the area. ENSO is a climatic pattern that occurs in the tropical Pacific Ocean and alters the temperatures of the water. La Nina is known as the cool phase as the cool water in the eastern Pacific intensifies and the trade winds intensify  but these means that warmer seas are more likely around eastern Australia. 

Tuesday (Monday night in the UK) has been the hottest day so far across New South Wales. Temperatures easily reached above 40°C in many areas, 15°C above the average temperature for the time of year. Temperatures in Sydney are getting very close to the hottest day on record in Sydney – a whopping 45.3°C set over 70 years ago in 1939. Temperatures in Sydney reached 41.8°C Sydney last night. In New South Wales have been particularly affected due to hot air from the desert being pushed east ahead of a cold frontal system. The highest temperature ever recorded in Australia was 53.1C in 1889 and the highest temperature recorded in the world is 58.0C in Libya in 1922.

BOM has stated that over the past five days, Australia has broken a record by having the most consecutive days with national daily average temperatures above 39°C. Individual high temperatures have already been broken in at least four of Australia’s seven states, with readings topping 48°C in a number of places.


As reported by the media on Sunday, there have been widespread forest fires due to the heat in Tasmania and sadly a number of people died. There were also over 90 wildfires in New South Wales and many have continued to burn through Monday and Tuesday. Fires, including barbecues have been banned across New South Wales with worries of more fires starting. Sadly these high temperatures will cause a number of deaths, particularly in the elderly population and by those trapped in wildfires. The fire fighters are doing everything they can to try and contain the fires, but it is difficult when they cover such a vast area.

It is going to remain largely dry and sunny across Australia the next couple of days, but rain and storms will move into western areas towards the weekend where it will also turn cooler. It will remain very hot across central areas. In New South Wales temperatures will remain a few degrees above average for the next week, but it will not be as hot as recent days.

Sally Webb

Sally Webb is a meteorologist living in Essex and working in London at MeteoGroup UK. She tweets @WeatherWebb and forecasts at www.weatherwebb.co.uk (The comments on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent MeteoGroup’s opinions or strategies)

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