Australia fries as the heat soars higher

Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
Teens leap at the chance to cool off at a jetty on Glenelg beach in Adelaide. The beaches in Australia are packed with people trying to beat the heat.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
A bush fire burning in Tasmania, Australia. Dozens of bush fires are burning in Tasmania state as well as in Victoria and New South Wales.PHOTO: REUTERS
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held between Australia and Sri Lanka last Friday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
Mist fans and tunnels help to keep people cool at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Temperatures soared to a record 42.2 deg C last Friday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
Mist fans and tunnels help to keep people cool at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Temperatures soared to a record 42.2 deg C last Friday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
Fans at the Australian Open grabbed at just about anything – wet towels, hats, fans, and even a mini-umbrella – to try to shield themselves from the heat.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
Eggs on a pavement in Adelaide. When the temperature is a searing 46.6 deg C and climbing, it’s so hot you can fry your eggs on the road.PHOTO: REUTERS
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
Amid the soaring temperatures, a roadside sign in Melbourne signals danger and carries a total fire ban.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
A koala drinks from a bottle offered by a man in Adelaide. Heart-warming stories of people helping thirsty koalas and kangaroos have filled social media in recent weeks. PHOTO: REUTERS
Some children having a splash at a fountain to beat the heat on Thursday, day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Australia's Marnus Labuschagne battling the heat at the Gabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, where a match was held b
A police officer from the town of Bourke in western New South Wales rescued an injured and heat-stressed sheep. He put the sheep in the front passenger seat and drove it to a holding pen.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NEW SOUTH WALES POLICE FORCE

More suffering from heatstroke; country hit by blackouts as electricity grids are pushed to the limits

The records keep breaking. Australia is wilting from back-to-back summer heatwaves that are pushing people, animals and electricity grids to the limit.

Last Thursday, temperatures soared to 46.6 deg C in Adelaide, breaking a record for the city set decades ago. In Port Augusta, a town just to the north of Adelaide, the mercury hit 49.5 deg C the same day.

The previous week, the New South Wales town of Noona broke the record for the country's highest night-time temperature, hitting 35.9 deg C on Jan 16. Other records have been broken in recent weeks.

Australians are used to hot summers. But each summer seems to be getting hotter and more extreme. Hospitals and emergency services have had to cope with an influx of people suffering from heat exhaustion or heatstroke, especially seniors.

The beaches are packed with people trying to beat the heat and, during the Australian Open in Melbourne last week, tennis fans chilled out in giant mist tunnels.

Businesses have also been trying to help customers to keep their cool. When temperatures hit 45 deg C last week, one Adelaide pub served free beer.

Elsewhere across the country, many people sought shelter at home in the air con or used fans, cold towels and drank cold water.

South Australia's health authorities last Thursday reported that dozens had received emergency treatment for heat-related illnesses. "Remember to check on elderly friends, relatives and neighbours, and those who are unwell," tweeted the state emergency services.

RISING HEAT

Extreme temperatures are projected to far exceed current temperature records by a large margin in just a few decades. We cannot continue to prepare and approach heatwaves as though they are just a minor inconvenience.

AUSTRALIAN CLIMATE SCIENTIST SOPHIE LEWIS

Politically, the heatwave is proving to be a challenge for the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which supports an expansion of coal mining and the building of new coal-fired power stations, which are major greenhouse gas polluters.

The heat has scorched Melbourne and Canberra, the capital, as well. Temperatures hit 42.8 deg C last Friday in Melbourne and 41 deg C in Canberra last Saturday, the fifth day this month that temperatures have hit 40 deg C or above in the Australian capital.

The extreme heat has taxed the electricity grid, triggering widespread blackouts in southern Australia last Friday because of surging demand. The authorities said more than 200,000 customers were without power after forced outages to reduce the risk of the entire grid failing.

But while the heat might seem extreme now, it is likely to be a lot worse in future, say climate scientists.

That is worrying the health services as heatwaves are a major killer. In Australia, since 1900, they have killed more people than the sum of all other natural hazards, a study published in 2014 found.

The world has already warmed 1 deg C on average since the mid-19th century.

It is on track to warm at least 3 deg C by the end of the century based on current emission reduction pledges by nearly 200 nations that signed the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Climate scientists say higher temperatures mean longer and more extreme heatwaves and droughts and deadlier and longer fire seasons. In Australia, that is a recipe for disaster for people and wildlife.

The heat and ongoing drought in much of south-east Australia have primed conditions this summer for fires. Dozens of bush fires are burning in Tasmania state as well as in Victoria and New South Wales.

Looking ahead, temperatures are likely to remain above average during February to April for much of the country, said the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in its latest long-range forecast.

As of this week, the heat has abated with the forecast of a low-intensity heatwave for south-east Australia until Friday. But summer is far from over.

THIRSTY KOALAS

The heat has taken a toll on wildlife and farm animals too. Dozens of wild horses were found dead in a dried-up water hole near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory last week. Dozens more had to be culled.

Yet heart-warming stories of people helping thirsty koalas and kangaroos have filled social media in recent weeks. A video on Australian Broadcasting Corporation online last Saturday showed a koala drinking water from a bottle held by a man. Another showed a koala on a golf course drinking from a bucket.

 
 
 
 

In Bourke, in western New South Wales, a police officer rescued an injured and heat-stressed sheep, strapped it into the front passenger seat and took it to a shelter, with netizens calling the officer a hero.

In far north Queensland and elsewhere, thousands of bats have died from heat, some literally dropping out of the sky. Thousands died around Cairns in late November, when a heatwave along the coast smashed temperature records over several days, peaking at 45.2 deg C near Townsville.

Climate scientists have been warning for years about the risks from heatwaves and other weather extremes.

"Extreme temperatures are projected to far exceed current temperature records by a large margin in just a few decades. We cannot continue to prepare and approach heatwaves as though they are just a minor inconvenience," said Australian climate scientist Sophie Lewis on Twitter last Friday.

Politically, the heatwave is proving to be a challenge for the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which supports an expansion of coal mining and the building of new coal-fired power stations, which are major greenhouse gas polluters.

This is despite clear warnings from the United Nations' science panel on climate change, which issued a landmark report last October saying the world needs to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to have any chance of preventing a climate catastrophe.

With climate change being felt intensely by many Australians, there is a growing call for stronger climate action by the government. The issue is set to be a central focus for the upcoming federal election, which the opposition Labor Party is expected to win.

Labor is vowing stronger action on climate change and better support for renewable energy.

"Mr Scott Morrison could only dream of approval ratings as high as solar power enjoys, yet a number of his colleagues are willing to embrace electoral oblivion before they'd countenance increasing the renewable energy target or reducing emissions," wrote The Australia Institute's deputy director Ebony Bennett, in a commentary in The Canberra Times recently.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2019, with the headline 'Australia fries as the heat soars higher'. Print Edition | Subscribe