In what’s becoming an annual rite of passage, Australia is in the midst of another record-setting heat wave.
It’s less the eye-popping temperatures (though it’s definitely going to be hot, with areas reaching 45 degrees and more the relentlessness of the heat and how much of the country is afflicted. Temperatures are already well above normal and will stay that way into the new year. The sweltering conditions are the latest sign that Australia is basically a window into the hellacious future we all face as the climate warms.
The heat began to blossom on Christmas Eve with temperatures up to more than 12 degrees Celsius above normal in parts of the states of Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia. Christmas Day saw the heat intensify further, with a widespread area of temperatures anywhere between 11 to 22 degrees Fahrenheit (6 to 12 degrees Celsius) above normal. Western Australia got the worst of it in absolute temperatures, with much of the northeast portion of the state facing temperatures of 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius).
The hot streak is expected to continue and migrate east in the coming days. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology forecasts heat wave conditions from Broome in Western Australia all the way to Sydney on the opposite end of the country over the next three days, with an area of extreme heat wave conditions in and around Canberra. Temperatures could crack 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) in the outback and 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) in Sydney’s suburbs. It’s possible that parts of Victoria could topple records for the number of consecutive days above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (44 degrees Celsius) that have stood since the 1920s.
All the heat has led local authorities to implement fire bans and warn of the dangers of heat-related illness, according to the Guardian. Many Australians have fled to the country’s beaches for relief from the heat, despite a rash of shark sightings and drownings amid rough conditions.
The new year doesn’t promise much better conditions. The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting increased odds of hotter-than-normal temperatures for every square inch, errr centimeter, of Australia in January. El Niño—characterised by the warming of waters in the eastern tropical Pacific—usually turns up the heat in parts of southern Australia. And while there’s a burgeoning El Niño right now, it has yet to really get going. That means it’s likely playing a pretty limited role in the heat streak, though it could lead to warmer-than-normal temperatures in 2019, not just for Australia but for the rest of the world.
Climate change hasn’t been tied to this heat wave, but it’s almost certainly playing a role. Study after study after study has shown that rising background temperatures driven by carbon pollution have been making heat waves more common and intense. Australia has been particularly stricken with numerous record-setting heat waves in the past few years (heck, there was one just last month that led to unprecedented bush fire conditions), acting as a hot, sticky bellwether for the rest of the world. The heat and all the attendant impacts we’re seeing today in Australia are a preview of what other places can expect. And the records being set today are almost certain to be broken.