Catastrophic Bushfires and Heat Waves Central and Eastern Australia  January 2013

xTemps-for-8-January-2012.jpg.pagespeed.ic.DQvWe0mE5c[1]Australia has been sweltering for more than a week with some extremely hot conditions to over 48C in some parts of northern South Australia and up to 48C in western Victoria, western NSW, and SW Queensland. This heat followed some hot conditions in Western Australia.

Today, the conditions are spreading into central and eastern NSW with temperatures of up to 43C anticipated in Sydney and the surrounding suburbs. Added to the threat of hot conditions is the serious situation of catastrophic fire conditions. This is the first time such fire conditions have been announced for the regions of eastern Australia. For some comparison as to previous fires with such ratings are the devastating bushfires of Victoria known as Black Saturday in 2009 that killed 175 people and completely incinerated two towns, the Canberra bush fires of 2003 also was in the catastrophic category and although the death toll was much lower, about 500 homes were lost in the disaster.

As this post is typed, dangerous fires are burning out of control particularly in the catastrophic fire danger zones. Our climate reporter Harley Pearman will provide a detailed analysis of this record breaking heat wave and locations that have broken or come near heat records.

31 thought on “Catastrophic Bushfires and Heat Waves Central and Eastern Australia January 2013”
  1. I will work on further posts in relation to this article. However on 8/1/2012, the heat was forecast to push towards the coast including Sydney with 41C to 43C forecast for the city depending on location.

    Early morning, I took this image of Sydney looking east just before sunrise. The image paints a picture of Sydney city about to experience its hottest day this summer and some of the hottest weather for two years. At 5.50 am looking east from the Auburn Council car park roof, I took this image of the sky and the orange glow of sunrise. The haze is visible and this suggests a hot day.

  2. During the morning. some mid to high level cloud was evident but enough breaks in the cloud allowed heating to occur. After 12 noon, I checked the BOM weather data and found that Richmond and Penrith were the first areas of Sydney to break the 40C mark followed by Sydney Airport.

    At 1 pm, I took a half day flexi day and drove to Richmond which at that stage was the hottest location in the Sydney region. I spent almost 2 hours walking along the river frontage taking photos of anything that resembled heat and hot weather and took numerous photos of the sky, the clouds, the haze and wildlife suffering from heat. One of the photos is provided below showing typical weather conditions between 2.30 pm and 4 pm on the 8/1/2012. At the time of this photo (And others), maximum temperatures reached 41.9C at Richmond. Hot dry WNW winds featured but I did not sweat too much.

    Sydney has had its hottest day in two years and temperatures did exceed 40C across most of Sydney. The highest temperatures based on BOM data reviewed at 5 pm was Sydney Airport which reached 42.5C, Observatory Hill reached 42.3C, Richmond (Where I was) reached 41.9C, Bankstown reached 41.8C, Sydney Olympic Park and Badgerys Creek reached 41.4C and Penrith reached 41.1C. The hottest location for the day in the Sydney basin appears to be Sydney Airport.

    During the day, dew points dropped quite low between 5.4C and 12C. The lowest dew points occurred at Camden (5.4C) followed by the Airport (5.7C) while the highest occurred at Sydney Olympic Park being 12C. (Source BOM weather data 8/1/2012).

    Wind speeds varied across Sydney from 44 km/h to 56 km per hour with the lowest being at Penrith and Camden (44 km/h) while the highest being 56 km/h at the airport. (Source BOM weather data 8/1/2012).

    While I was out at Richmond, I noticed that the hot dry WNW winds would increase, then decrease with some calm periods between wind gusts.

  3. I will work on some tables and look at weather stations as to what has occurred over the past few days. To place the heat that Sydney experienced on the 8/1/2012 into perspective, the temperatures that occurred did not match some of those occurring across the inland of New South Wales.

    Wilcania Airport topped 45.7C, followed by Tibooburra Airport at 44.8C, Broken Hill Airport at 43.8C and Condobolin Airport at 43.3C. Numerous other places reached 40C to 42C such as Temora 42.3C, Bega 41.1C and Cessnock 40.6C.

    The coldest locality was Thredbo Top Station on 22.5C due to altitude. (Source BOM Weather data 8/1/2012).

    I am aware of numerous fires and many being sparked by lightning strikes last Saturday (5/1/2012). Thunderstorms in Southern NSW on Saturday afternoon has sparked several fires including those near Wagga Wagga and Tarcutta. I am aware of a fire emergency east of Wagga Wagga. A thunderstorm at Albury on Saturday afternoon resulted in the temperaure dropping from near 43C to 26.6C very quickly and dropping 12.6 mm of rain but creating fire related issues in areas not affected by rainfall.

    A cool change will impact the coast for Wednesday but it will not dislodge the heat from the inland and more hot weather is expected over coming days.

  4. The temperature plot for 8/1/2013 has become available and it shows that the heat finally made it to the coast. The inland part of New South Wales but especially the Murray Darling Basin has again sweltered with some very high temperatures.

    The only regions to miss out on the heat are the elevated regions of the state and the north east corner.

    This is generated using the BOM website “Water and the Land” but specific for maximum temperatures (8/1/2013).

  5. Hi Harley Pearman.

    I heard on the news that the Bureau of Meteorology are going to put on forecast maps 50C isotherms – do you have information about this?

  6. Harley, I tend to find the calm and gusty periods to be more aligned with cloudy versus sunny periods – did you notice such a correlation?

  7. Jimmy. I did notice that and observed that quite well. Under cloud the wind eased but during the sunny spells, the wind increased.

  8. I need to spend some time looking at weather stations but at this stage, there does not appear to be any 50C temperatures being reached on official weather stations anywhere. There are regions of inland Australia not covered by weather stations. If it has occurred, then it may have occurred over an area not covered by a weather station. However, we don’t know and never will.

    Looking at some official sites and the Bureau of Meteorology Report of 9/1/2013, it is known that the highest maximum temperatures have occurred at Eucla being 48.2C and Eyre being 47.7C on the 2/1/2013.

    Hobart had its all time highest temperature of 41.8C from this event. There is a recording of 48.4C at Marree (South Australia), 47.7C at Hay (Riverina region of New South Wales) and 45.7C at Yarrawonga (NSW / Victoria) state border.

    It is known that Australia has broken its “Highest National Average Temperature” set on 21 December 1972 being 40.17C. On Monday 7/1/2013, the new record was 40.33C.

    Another record has also been broken being the “Area Average Mean Temperature” which is the average of the maximum and minimum temperatures. On Monday, the new figure was 32.23C surpassing the previous record of 31.86C on 21 December 1972. That was broken again on the 8/1/2013 being 32.36C.

    Overall maximum temperature readings for towns and cities appear to be less than 49C.

    Putting this heatwave into perspective, much of it is occurring across inland Australia. Other than a handful of bigger centres like Canberra, Albury Wodonga, Bendigo and to a lesser extent Shepparton, Mildura and Broken Hill etc much of the affected area is sparsely or lightly populated. Significant numbers of people are not bearing the full brunt of the heatwave.

  9. I have provided the “Maximum Temperature Anomaly” for the week ending 8 January 2013 for the whole of Australia plotted on the “Water and the Land” website – BOM 9/1/2013.

    Of particular interest is the Murray Darling Basin where the plot shows temperature anomalies being 8C to 10C above average for the week. That area extends across much of South Australia. It is showing the heat and excess temperature anomalies significantly impacting much of the inland regions. Inland NSW, most of Victoria, most of South Australia and large areas of Western Australia are most affected.

    Even eastern Tasmania has been affected with temperature anomalies 6C to 8C above the January average.

    In NSW, the east coast has largely been spared the worst.

  10. I now provide the minimum temperature anomaly from the same site covering the past 7 days. Of particular interest is the Murray Darling Basin region of NSW where overnight anomalies are 4C to 6C above average for the week. A small area have been recording anomalies of 6C to 8C above average.

    Hence forth, the nights have been particularly warm for the areas most affected by the daytime heat. Here in Sydney, minimum average have been slightly above average but overall, they much closer to the long term average.

  11. I am aware of this. There has been suggestion that 50C temperatures could be breached across an area of South Australia (Arid and inland regions only). It appears that the forecast maps only covered temperatures of less than 50C (48C to 50C as maximums). Hence the use of ‘purple” colouring would be a new colour that would only be used if temperatures are forecast to reach or breach 50 Celsius.

    Temperatures of 50C anywhere are rare and more so in Australia. It has reached that at Oodnadatta being 50.7C on 2 January 1960 which is our highest official temperature. That temperature has not been challenged during this current heatwave.

    Given that 50C temperatures are incredibly rare here in Australia, it would be a colour seldom or rarely seen on the maps.

    There is another hot spell coming through this weekend with some high temperatures expected. It remains to be seen whether that “purple colouring” would be used. Even then one would only likely to see the use of that colouring on maps where the arid regions of South Australia and New South Wales are located (Far western and North Western New South Wales and northern desert / arid regions of South Australia). Hence this would include towns like Oodnadatta, Tibooburra and Marree.

  12. Further to my first answer, I have looked at temperature forecasts for Friday and Saturday across some areas of inland south east Australia. The Bureau of Meteorology as shown is not using the “Purple” colour. for Saturday afternoon. The dark reds and even blacks are being used and temperature forecasts for a few inland areas are forecast to reach 47C and 48C but no higher. The plot is for 5 pm Saturday afternoon from the Access Models (BOM 10/1/2012). The darkest reds are suggested for arid inland regions of New South Wales and South Australia.

  13. To reinforce the plot provided, temperature forecasts for selected towns affected by the darkest reds for Saturday 12/1/2012 are:-

    Oodnadatta 45C (Friday), 47C (Saturday), 47C (Sunday).
    Coober Pedy 45C (Friday), 46C (Saturday), 43C (Sunday.
    Woomera 43C (Friday) 42C (Saturday), 40C (Sunday).
    Leigh Creek 43C (Friday), 46C (Saturday), 45C (Sunday).
    Maree 44C (Friday), 47C (Saturday), 48C (Sunday).
    Moomba 44C (Friday), 48C (Saturday), 48C (Sunday).
    Broken Hill 42C (Friday), 43C (Saturday), 40C (Sunday).
    Tibooburra 43C (Friday), 47C (Saturday), 47C (Sunday).
    Cobar 43C (Friday), 46C (Saturday), 46C (Sunday).

    I am not identifying any 50C forecasts for the period for the worst affected area. Even Penrith and Richmond in Western Sydney are suggested to reach 41C and 42C on Friday and Saturday before cooling down with another southerly wind change.

    Again the worst of the heat appears to be away from major population centres.

  14. It would be worth adding, a cool change impacted Sydney, much of southern NSW and Victoria on Wednesday 9/1/2013. The cooler change pushed the heat northwards into northern NSW.

    I have learnt today (Border Mail 9/1/2013) that brief snow flurries were recorded on the summit of Mt Hotham (NE Victoria) around 7 am Wednesday morning. It was only brief and did not settle. It fell to minus 1C there with a windchill of minus 3. This is strange considering that much of South East Australia is in the grip of a significant heatwave. It shows the contrasts this country can produce at the same time by different weather systems and wind direction.

  15. I have put together a complete set of temperature records for 14 towns and cities across New South Wales covering the worst of the heatwave to date between the dates 3 January and 9 January 2013. They cover the maximum and minimum temperatures and this includes the extremes reached. I have included a few coastal locations, locations on the tablelands and some inland centres to try and provide some form of comparison. With so many towns and cities and weather stations on the Bureau of Meteorology network, it is not possible to do every single centre so a snapshot must be taken.

    It is clearly seen that the further inland one goes the greater the maximums reached. It is also shown that some inland centres have had 4 to 5 consecutive days of 40C temperatures. The highest I can find is one of 47.7C at Hay (Was actually the airport on the 5/1/2013). The coast has been spared although Bega on the South Coast has had some heat. Sydney City is least affected due to coastal location.

    It is also identified that overnight minimums have been dropping to the low 30s (Refer to Hay and Ivanhoe) and it shows that the heat has not been escaping too well at night. The cool change at the end of the period would have been welcome but this pushed the heat into northern New South Wales.

    That heat has now returned. Please refer to the table below for the comparison.

  16. The 31.3C minimum overnight temperature highlighted for Ivanhoe recorded on the 8/1/2013 is significant. It is a warm night and shows that the daytime heat has not been escaping too well at night. To put that into perspective, the average daytime maximum temperature for Observatory Hill Sydney for the first 10 days of January is currently 27.8C (Source Weatherzone BOM data).

    A comparison is made to the small inland Western Australia town of Leonora. The weather station here is located 376 metres above sea level. On the 6/1/2013, the maximum temperature reached 41.5C. On the 7/1/2013, it reached 47.8C. On the 8/1/2013, it reached 48.3C. On the 9/1/2013, it reached 49C. On the 10/1/2013, it reached 41C.

    For overnight minimums for the same corresponding period, they are 27.9C, 27.2C, 31.6C, 31.1C and 24.5C.

    That 49C is the highest temperature to date during this heatwave and is 12C above the long term maximum average (1957 to 2012 average of 37C). The long term minimum average here is 26.7C. (Source Weatherzone BOM weather data).

    Today the heat returned to large areas of New South Wales. Penrith in Western Sydney reached 40C late in the day. Hay and Swan Hill shared 42.6C. Ivanhoe reached 43.1C and Bourke reached 45C to provide some samples.

    On Saturday, some high temperatures are forecast but it is known that a cooler wind change will provide some relief by the close of day for many areas acoss the southern part of the state and the South Coast including Sydney.

  17. Thanks Harley Pearman for that excellent coverage – some extremely high temperatuires reported and that over night minimum really shows that the thickness values remained allowing for such an extreme contributed also from ground heating after several days of heating!

  18. Now – for the forecast of 45C at Penrith – this is the first time I have ever recalled since studying the weather that such temperatures have been forecast!

    Sydney 23 39.
    Partly cloudy. Penrith 23 45.
    Partly cloudy. Liverpool 22 42.
    Partly cloudy. Terrey Hills 22 40.
    Partly cloudy. Richmond 22 44.
    Partly cloudy. Parramatta 22 43.
    Partly cloudy. Campbelltown 21 42.
    Partly cloudy. Bondi 24 32.

  19. Like Adelaide recently when 44 was forecasted there n it reached 45 there. I think there's high based dry line storms heading my way now as I speak.

  20. The BOM has now toned down the forecast to just 31C for the city and a maximum of 39C at Penrith. The cool change is passing through SE Sydney dropping teperatures. Sydney will miss the true heat. However when I last looked, Newcastle had reached 38C and Tocal had reached 40.5C. The worst of the heat is to the north of Sydney. Much of southern NSW will or should escape the heat due to the cooler change coming through.

  21. I was stunned. At around 10.30 am, I heard a thunderclap, then another. I went outside and I could not figure out where it was coming from until I saw a single cloud to ground lightning strike from a very high based darkened cloud to the NW. I could not believe it. I only heard four thunderclaps from it. This would have been towards Scholfields area.

  22. The latest Access Models (BOM) for Sunday does suggest the heat retreating northwards into far north west NSW, into south west Queensland and north east South Australia. It appears a cool change will present a reprieve for southern Australia. Victoria is now relieved of the heat.

    The plot for 5 pm Sunday 13 January 2013 suggests cooler conditions for Victoria, coastal NSW and much of inland southern NSW.

    When looking at these, the heat cell over Australia does not appear to break up over coming days but moves around the inland based on where the high pressure cell is located.

    I am not seeing possible 50C temperatures being forecast or suggested but temperatures are still well into the 40C range.

    Today, the Bureau of Meteorology has downgraded Sydneys expected temperature from 39C to 31C and Penrith from 45C to 39C. It has only just reached into the low 30s for Sydney but with the cooler change passing through Sydney, temperatures are dropping along the coast.

    Its a little different north of Sydney where it has reached 39C at Cessnock, 38C at Newcastle and even 40.5C at Tocal (When I last looked).

    Longer range weather models and rainfall models do suggest a rain event across much of Western Australia although this is still a number of days out and models do change. They also suggest the monsoon rains to the north to increase. It appears this current heat episode may have an end in sight for both sides of the continent albiet its still some days away.

    It should be added that the northern monsoon has been weak to date. With little cloud cover, the heat has built up across large areas of Australia.

  23. True extent of heatwave:

    The Australian continent has seriously heated up during this phase. I have produced on the Bureau of Meteorology Website ‘Water and the Land” to show the true extent of what has occurred (Week ending 8 January 2013). There are few regions left unscathed. In particular, the vast covering of the colour “Brown” represents temperatures of at least 45C (Roughly 114F). Every state and territory is impacted by that colouring except Tasmania. Only north, north west and west side of Tasmania, north east New South Wales as well as the highest areas of Victoria and New South Wales and coastal Queensland has escaped the worst of this.

    This shows “Highest Maximum” for the week 2 to 8 January 2013.

  24. Overnight Maximum lows

    The overnight maximum lows should also be considered. In the areas affected by the colour “Brown”, first plot, it is also shown that many of those regions have suffered excessive warm nights. Every state and territory has been affected to some degree except Tasmania. In some of these areas, minimum lows have reached the 30C to 33C range. There has been little cooling overnight to provide relief. In New South Wales, the eastern half has been spared the worst of this phenomena.

    This is for “Highest Minimum temperature” for week ending 8 January 2013.

  25. I must say I thought I was hallucinating when I heard thunder. But then I heard another and then another! I went outside and though – these have to be the most pathetic high based thunderstorms I have ever seen! It was like being in the desert! And yes it was confirmed that the cloud to ground lightning through triangulation was reported east of Schofields!

  26. Harley Pearman – yes the so called massive heat wave was not realised as per forecast but I would not rule it out some time this month. With this type of heat inland, it is inevitable that an extremely hot day will maximise over Sydney.

  27. Moomba – South Australia.

    There is a Weatherzone storey dated 13/1/2013 suggesting that is reached 49.6C at Moomba in South Australia on Saturday 12 January 2013. I have investigated this however I raise the possibility that it may not be accurate.

    When checking this weather station, all I can find on the 30 minute normal recordings is 48.3C at 2.30 pm and another 48.1C as a 4 pm reading with other readings close to or just below this. I do not see any evidence of it going any higher.

    If this is accurate although it would be good if this could be verified, then this would be significant as the closest to that 50C mark, the hottest during this current hot spell and the hottest for a number of years across Australia.

  28. This artical will conclude this topic and provide some form of a summary. I have used the Bureau of Meteorology – Special Climate Statement Number 43 “Extreme Heat in January” as a guide (Updated 25 January 2013). This is a brief summary of the heatwave and what occurred.

    Now that the heatwave is over, it is identified that the following has occurred.

    1 – Most of the continent was impacted at some stage during the event and records were set in every state and territory.
    2 – The most recent heatwave can be compared to the heatwave of 1972/73. The heatwave then coincided with the late onset of the monsoon, similar to what occurred this year.
    3 – The 2012/13 heatwave resulted in 40C temperatures being recorded in every capital city except Brisbane and Darwin.
    4 – Hobart recorded a new maximum high of 41.8C and it reached 45C in Adelaide for only the fourth time in its history.
    5 – Perth experienced 7 days in a row of 37C from 25 to 31 December 2012.
    6 – The highest temperature recorded in Western Australia during the event was 49C at Leonora.
    7 – A temperature of 48C occurred at Wiluna (WA) on 8/1/2013 which equalled the record for the highest sea level equivalent temperature observed in Australia.
    8 – Moomba (South Australia) did reach 49.6C on January 12, the hottest temperature of the event and the hottest temperature recorded since 1960. This is the sixth hottest temperature recorded in Australia under standard conditions.
    9 – It reached 49C at Birdsville Queensland which is a new January record for Queensland (13/1/2013).
    10 – The 48.6C at Wanaaring (NSW) is the hottest temperature to occur in the state since 1939.
    11 – Bedourie (QLD) recorded a minimum low of 34.1C on the 14/1/2013 and that is the highest minimum temperature in QLD since 2006.
    12 – It reached 45.8C at Observatory Hill Sydney being the new record for Sydney (Max temp) on 18/1/2013.
    13 – The 19/1/2013 was the first day where it did not reach 45C somewhere in Australia since 31/12/2012.
    14 – January 7 2013 was the hottest day with an average maximum of 40.33C surpassing the 40.17C set on 21/12/1972.
    15 – The “Area averaged temperature for Australia” as a whole exceeded 39C on 7 days between 2 and 9 January. This exceeds the 4 days set in 1972.
    16 – On January 7, Australia recorded a new area averaged mean temperature being the average of the maximum and minimum of 32.23C surpassing the 31.86C on 21 December 1972.
    17 – The National area averaged minimum temp on 8 January was 24.2C which is second to the 24.69C on 23 January 1982.
    18 – A maximum temperature of 45C occurred over 46.9% of the continent during the event.
    19 – Some 44 weather stations with 30 years of data set new record high temperatures with a further 15 setting new January records.
    20 – For minimum temperatures, 7 weather stations set new records and 13 set new January records.
    21 – No new all time temperature record was set but the area affected by the heat was unprecedented. The heatwave lasted alot longer.
    22 – Alice Springs experienced 17 days where the maximum temperature reached 40C.
    23 – Birdsville experienced 29 such days of 40C temperatures in a row as at 24 January 2013.
    24 – It reached 47C somewhere in NSW on 6 days and 48C on 5 days in a row in South Australia.

    As seen, this was a significant weather event to impact Australia. There is a full technical analysis of it on the Bureau of Meteorology website being “Special Climate Statement 43 – Extreme Heat in January 2013” published 24 January 2013. The full reading includes detailed maps, weather stations that recorded new records, tables, graphs and technical analysis and development of the heatwave.

  29. Harley Pearman, thanks for the report on the rainfall and temperature records across the country.

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