By Michael Perry
SYDNEY, Jan 29 (Reuters) - A heatwave scorching southern Australia, causing transport chaos by buckling rail lines and leaving more than 10,000 homes without power, is a sign of climate change, the climate change minister said on Thursday.
The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a total of six days of 40-plus Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) temperatures for southern Australia, which would equal the hottest heatwave in 100 years.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the heatwave, which started on Wednesday, was the sort of weather scientists had been warning about.
"Eleven of the hottest years in history have been in the last 12, and we also note, particularly in the southern part of Australia, we’re seeing less rainfall," Wong told reporters.
"All of this is consistent with climate change, and all of this is consistent with what scientists told us would happen."
Health officials in South Australia and Victoria have advised people to stay indoors, use air conditioners, and keep their fluids up. More than 10,000 homes were without power in southern Australia as the heat took its toll on the electricity grid.
In Melbourne rail lines buckled and train services were cancelled, stranding thousands of hot and angry commuters.
The heatwave forced the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne to suspend outside matches and close the roof of the main stadium for the past two days.
Australia is in the grip of drought and total fire bans have been declared in southern Australia in the hope of preventing major bushfires. Small bushfires are burning in South Australia and Victoria and all national parks have been closed.
The extreme temperatures were threatening Melbourne’s parks and gardens, said Mayor Robert Doyle, in announcing an increase in water supplies to counter a 40 percent drop in soil moisture.
"The signs are there that our precious trees are struggling in this brutal weather," said Doyle.
Melbourne has 60,000 trees in its parks and streets and officials said they were most concerned about 15,000 trees growing in irrigated turf.
"Our parks staff have indicated a number of trees are defoliating and canopies are thinning. Once defoliation takes place it is very hard to save the tree," said Doyle. (Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Sugita Katyal)