SYDNEY (AFP) - Temperatures in Sydney on Friday hit their highest levels since records began 150 years ago, after an Australian government agency warned of more frequent and intense heatwaves in the future.
While a vicious cold snap has recently hit Russia and eastern Europe and the Middle East has suffered its worst winter storm in a decade, Australian firefighters were battling scores of wildfires in stifling summer heat.
In Sydney, Australia's biggest city, the temperature smashed the previous hottest recorded temperature peaking at 45.8 degrees Celsius. The old record, of 45.3 C, was set in January 1939.
"It's a historic day for Sydney," Weather Channel meteorologist Dick Whitaker said.
"We haven't seen a day like this in Sydney's recorded history." It is the latest record to fall as Australia swelters under a heatwave that has affected 70 per cent of the vast country and created what experts have called a "dome of heat" over the nation's outback centre.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the heatwave had been affecting large parts of Australia since late 2012, and the Sydney record set at Observatory Hill - where the temperature has been measured since 1859 - was just the latest.
"The record setting temperatures were not limited to Sydney, with records being set along the coast," the bureau said.
"The highest temperature recorded in the Greater Sydney Area was 46.5 C at Penrith." The scorching heat follows an extended period of exceptionally widespread hot weather for Australia in which the nation experienced its hottest day on record on January 7 with the average maximum temperature hitting 40.33 degrees.
The extreme weather, which has exacerbated bushfires, last week also saw the government's weather bureau upgrade its temperature scale by introducing new colours to cover projected forecast highs.
At one point last week, central Australia was shown with a purple area on the bureau's forecast map, a new colour code suggesting temperatures were set to soar above 50 degrees.
Australia's all-time record temperature is 50.7 degrees, set in January 1960 at Oodnadatta in South Australia state.