IT’S perhaps no accident the tiny outback town of Meekatharra is an early warning site for the Bureau of Meteorology’s weather watchers as they plot what’s ahead for Australia’s great summer of heat.
Believed to mean “place of little water” in the local indigenous language, Meekatharra has been a place of little relief when it comes to scorching temperatures.
On Tuesday, the town in the mid-west region of Western Australia hit 47.1 degrees, smashing its previous maximum temperature by 1.4 degrees in a series that dates back to 1944.
“You don’t expect to break inland area temperatures by this amount,” David Jones, head of climate analysis at the bureau, said.
Measured at an elevation of roughly 500 metres, that heat would be the equivalent of 51-52 degrees at sea-level, he said.
And as a “source region” of Australia’s heat, Meekatharra, along with a handful of sites dotted across the country’s red-hot heart, offers the bureau signals of the heat ahead for the more populated areas to the south and east.
”This is where Australia’s air masses get very, very hot,” Dr Jones said. Forecasters ”look for these high temperatures there because that’s the source region for our heatwave”, he said.
Blistering heat in such places, with the help of northerly or westerly winds, means the mercury will climb in Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney.
Nationally, important records are still tumbling. Monday and Tuesday posted consecutive record days for mean temperatures – averaging maximums and minimums – reaching 32.22 and 32.32 degrees, respectively.
The two results easily eclipsed a 40-year record of 31.86 degrees by almost half a degree.
“The extent and intensity of the heat now is clearly unprecedented for Australia for two consecutive days,” Dr Jones said.
Tuesday’s average minimum of 24.52 degrees was the second highest on record, and arguably more important for human health consequences than the maximums, said John Nairn, the bureau’s acting regional director of South Australia.
”Once you get higher minimum temperatures you have a problem in discharging the heat that day before you go into the next day,” he said.
Even if temperatures remain stable, ”your heat impact is rising because you are accumulating more heat both in the support infrastructure and the human body.”
In terms of climate change trends, the rising mean temperatures provide a clearer ”fingerprint”, not to mention the rate and scale of the new records being set, Dr Jones said.
“At least in the past we used to break records by small margins most of the time,” he said. “This tendency to break records by large margins is really something that’s emerging quite quickly globally,” he said, noting that the US revealed it had posted its hottest year on record for the lower 48 states, beating the previous record by about 0.6 degrees.
Looking ahead for Australia, cooler conditions are bringing relief to firefighters and the wider populations of the south-east. However, more hot temperatures – as signalled by Meekatharra – are on the way.
The bureau predicts temperatures may reach 48 at Marree in South Australia on Sunday, while Weatherzone says 50 may be reached on Sunday or Monday, with towns like Bourke in NSW candidates for that peak.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.