Bats are dropping from trees, kangaroos are collapsing in the Outback and gardens are turning brown. While North America freezes under record polar temperatures, the southern hemisphere is experiencing the opposite extreme as heat records are being set in Australia after the hottest year ever last year.
Weather forecasters in Australia said some parts of the sparsely populated Pilbara region along the rugged northwest coast on Thursday were approaching 50?C The record high of 50.7?C was set in 1960 in Oodnadatta, South Australia state.
Outback resident Gian Tate, 60, spends much of the day soaking in a small wading pool at her home near Emu Creek in the Pilbara region, a remote area off the electric grid. The thermometer outside her home registered 50?C on Wednesday, she said.
Tate and her husband rely on two electric fans to cope with the oven-like heat and rarely turn on the small air conditioner in their bedroom because of the high cost of fuel to run their generator.
“We’ve just got to live with it; there’s nothing you can do,” she said.
Brazil is also sizzling, with the heat index reaching 49?C. Zookeepers in Rio de Janeiro were giving animals ice pops to beat the heat.
The late arrival of the monsoon in northern Australia, which has a cooling effect, is contributing to the searing heat, said Karly Braganza, the manager of climate monitoring at the Bureau of Meteorology. Global warming also is playing a role, he said.
So far, this year’s heat wave, which started at about Christmas and has moved counterclockwise across Australia’s north, is not as extensive or prolonged as last year’s. However, it would likely continue and move toward South Australia state, Braganza said.
“Certainly looking at the forecast over the next week, it’s looking like that heat is going to continue,” he said.
Since Dec. 27, records have been set at 34 locations across Australia — some by large margins — where temperature data has been collected for at least 40 years, mostly in Queensland and New South Wales states. In the mining town of Narrabi in New South Wales, the new record of 47.8?C exceeded the previous record by 3.6?C.
The extreme temperatures come on the heels of Australia’s hottest year on record, beating the previous record year of 2005, with mean temperatures 1.2?C above the 1961 to 1990 average.
The heat wave in Australia has taken a toll on wildlife, too.
In Winton, one of the hottest spots in Queensland and the place where Australia’s unofficial anthem Waltzing Matilda was penned, a “large number” of parrots, kangaroos and emus have recently been found dead in the parched landscape, Winton Shire Council chief executive Tom Upton said.
“That’s as much to do with the extended dry as it is with the heat wave,” he said.
At least 50,000 bats had been killed by the heat in the state’s southeast, said Louise Saunders, president of the Queensland animal welfare group Bat Conservation and Rescue.