SYDNEY (Reuters) - An outback town near Australia’s red-hot centre barely paused on Wednesday for a heat wave that is gripping the country, fuelling fires and prompting widespread health warnings as heat records tumble.
Oodnadatta, a South Australian town of about 200 people on an old Aboriginal trading route, is forecast to record peak temperatures of 47 Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), making it one of the hottest places on Earth.
“It’s just another very hot day,” said resident Hayley Nunn, who is the manager of the town’s distinct pink roadhouse where tourists stop on their way to and from the Simpson Desert.
“People say to me they love summer. If you love summer, come out and experience this because you will not love it,” Nunn said in a phone interview.
Nunn said Oodnadatta falls into a rhythm in the summer with people doing jobs early in the morning and late in the afternoon, while sheltering from the heat in the middle of the day.
“I grew up here, I’m used to the heat. You cope but it’s not fun.”
The unrelenting heat in Oodnadatta, forecast to repeat every day for at least the next week, is expected to fall just shy of the 50.7C (123.26F) temperature recorded there in 1960, a long-standing national record.
But other heat records are tumbling in the first month of the Southern Hemisphere summer.
Australia recorded its warmest day on record on Tuesday, according to BOM’s preliminary results, with an average maximum temperature across the country of 40.9C (105.62F), just above the previous record set in January 2013.
But the mark could be exceeded again on Wednesday and possibly on Thursday and Friday, according to BOM data.
The hot weather is stretching across the continent and fuelling fires that have been ravaging Australia’s east for weeks, since late in the southern spring.
Fire authorities in the state of New South Wales (NSW) said on Wednesday there were 100 fires, half of them not contained.
Fires have killed six people, destroyed more than 680 homes and burned nearly 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of bushland.
BATTLE ON TWO FRONTS
Australia is being hit with two separate climate-driving events off its west and southern coasts - a positive Indian Ocean Dipole and negative Southern Annulare Mode - that are reducing rainfall and increasing temperatures.
“They have combined together to create this situation of a particularly nasty heat wave event,” said BOM meteorologist Sarah Scully.
The extreme conditions have been exacerbated by a warming climate, which is triggering large-scale protests in a country that is committed to exploiting its vast coal reserves.
The combination of thick smoke settling over populated areas and intense heat has triggered numerous health warnings, especially for the young and the old, and those with respiratory conditions.
“People should take those conditions seriously and do what they can to keep out of the heat as much as possible,” said Richard Broome, the director of environmental health in New South Wales state.
In Oodnadatta, where the temperature is only expected to drop to around 30C (86F) overnight, residents are warning travellers to take plenty of water on their car trips in case they break down on isolated roads.
“Between most towns, it’s 200 kilometres (124 miles),” said Nunn.
Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in Sydney; Additional reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Peter Cooney, Robert Birsel
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