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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Melbourne Swelters Through Hottest Night in a Century

Melbourne Swelters Through Hottest Night in a Century

by Robert Fenner, Bloomberg, January 12, 2010

Residents of Melbourne sweltered through the hottest night in more than a century as warm winds swept the city in Australia’s southeast, straining air conditioners and sending crowds to area beaches for relief.

Temperatures in Australia’s second-most populous city soared to as high as 43.6 °C (110.5 °F) yesterday, remaining above 30 °C throughout the night. The overnight low of 30.6 °C matched the previous record for Melbourne’s warmest night set on February 1, 1902, Stuart Coombs, duty forecaster for the Bureau of Meteorology, said in a telephone interview today.

The heat and winds drove Melbourne residents to swimming pools and air-conditioned shopping malls while thousands flocked to beaches on Port Phillip Bay. Cooler air is on the way, with temperatures forecast to reach 33 °C today.

Electricity demand in Victoria rose to a peak of 10,105 megawatts at 5 p.m. yesterday, compared with average summer peaks of about 6,500, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator, a grouping of energy industry bodies. A record peak of 10,494 megawatts was set on January 29 last year.

Metro Trains, which operates Melbourne’s suburban rail network, reported power failures and cancellations on 12 of its 17 lines early today. The operator canceled more than 140 services yesterday.

Paramedics responded to more than 100 heat-related cases yesterday, the Victorian ambulance service said on its Web site.

Bushfire Threat
The spike in temperatures is similar to last year when record highs across Australia’s southeast contributed to a rash of bushfires in the state of Victoria that killed 173.

A bushfire burned out of control today in the eastern Gippsland region of Victoria, the Country Fire Authority said on its Web site. The fire may threaten the town of Cann River this evening, the warning said.

The Australian bushfire season arrived early this summer, with some parts of New South Wales declared to be at danger in August, sooner than expected.

Parts of Western Australia state were designated disaster areas last month after heat fanned bushfires that destroyed 2,900 hectares (7,166 acres) of land and 30 homes. Sydney issued warnings in December as fires threatened properties near the nation’s largest city.

Fruit-Growing Region
The Goulburn Valley, Australia’s largest fruit-growing region about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Melbourne, has already experienced six days this month with temperatures above 40 °C, compared with a January average of four days.

Growers in central Victoria, where 85% of the nation’s pears are cultivated, may have to harvest earlier than usual as the heat accelerates ripening, said Rien Silverstein, president of horticulture at the Victorian Farmers Federation.

Some growers are using more overhead watering to lower temperatures while others are installing shading and spraying fruit with chalk to act as a sunscreen, Silverstien said in a telephone interview today from her family’s orchards in the central Victorian city of Shepparton.

“Sunburn is pretty frightful when it gets on fruit, it affects the apples the worst,” Silverstein said. “Last year’s heat literally cooked the fruit.”

The warm weather so far this year comes after Australia experienced its warmest decade since records began in 1910. Temperatures averaged 22.3 °C from 2000 to 2009 compared with 21.8 °C from 1961 to 1990, Dean Collins, a senior climatologist with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said in an interview last week.

Water Dams
Victorian water dams recorded their lowest inflows on record during the past decade, the state government said today. Some 3.9 billion liters of water entered storage during the period, compared with a previous low of 5 billion in the 1980s.

The heat is unlikely to affect the state’s wheat crop as most growers completed harvesting in December, said Andrew Broad, president of the Victorian Farmers Federation.

Global weather patterns are fluctuating widely this year, providing what scientists say is evidence of a changing climate. European transport has been delayed this week by snow in the U.K. and Germany, while China curbed power use because of extreme cold.

In Victoria, the Country Fire Authority has maintained bans on open-air fires across most of the state with Code Red bushfire warnings issued for areas in the state’s north.

The Code Red alert, the highest level, was activated for the first time yesterday after being introduced in the wake of last year’s bushfires.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Fenner in Melbourne



susan said...

Thanks Tenney, you're always on top of the news. Australian Open Tennis should be interesting next week. Typical that us northerners think we are the only visible people on earth!

Tenney Naumer said...

Dear Susan,

I probably got wind of this via Yves Smith's blog -- Naked Capitalism (the best finance news blog out there!).

But thanks anyway!