Sunday, 1 February 2009

Australia burns

While in the Northern states of the USA and Europe we suffer ever more freezing weather, down-under in Australia the weather is just as extreme. The states of South Australia and Victoria recorded temperatures above 109F (43C) on Friday.

As the mercury rose, bushfires raged across eastern Victoria, fuelled by bone dry conditions and sweeping winds. The "brutal" weather broke records in the city of Melbourne, which for the first time experienced three consecutive days above 109F (43C). At the hottest part of the day, the city suffered 113F (45.1C). And the temperatures failed to fall at night, with residents attempting to sleep through 100F (38C) 107F heat.

Sweltering temperatures also hit the usually-temperate island of Tasmania, which had its hottest day on record, reaching 107F (42.2C).

The soaring heat took its toll on the elderly and infirm, with police and ambulance crews in Adelaide, where temperatures hit 109F (43.1C), reporting a sharp rise in the number of sudden deaths, with at least 19 people in the city believed to have died as a direct result of the heat wave.

There was chaos in Melbourne, where rising temperatures caused power outages, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of trains. Commuters, described as "cooking in the heat", were stuck on trains and trams for hours. Some benevolent companies offered to let their employees leave early, but in a rare exhibition of presenteeism in January, workers decided to linger in their air-conditioned offices rather than take their chances on the baking streets below. Children were sent home from school and hotels reported a spike in bookings as hot home-owners sought out fully-air-conditioned rooms.

At least 400,000 homes across Victoria remained without power and the state's government is convening to consider limiting electricity use to prevent further blackouts. But there is little respite in sight. Adelaide is preparing for its longest hot spell since 1908, with forecasters tipping temperatures above 107F (38C) for the next seven days.

In the meantime in the UK, snow is coming our way from Russia and a long freeze is forecast. And still some people are saying that there is no global weather change?

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