It’s a formidable thing to achieve, and a title the locals would prefer another city had claimed claimed, but late on Thursday afternoon Adelaide was the hottest city on the planet, trumping the rest of the world’s hot-weather heavyweights.
At 2.27pm, the northern suburb of Edinburgh hit 45.4 degrees, while central Adelaide sweltered at 44.2 degrees.
It easily blitzed its rival Australian capitals, with Melbourne the only close contender at a maximum of 43.9 degrees. Canberra came in at 40.1 degrees, trailed by Darwin and Brisbane jointly at a top of 31 degrees.
Our close neighbours sweated through 32 degrees in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and 31 degrees in Singapore. New Zealand was one of the more comfortable places close by, with Wellington reaching a maximum of only 22 degrees.
No surprises from the United Kingdom. The gloomy capital of London was expected to reach only 12 degrees, with Glasgow brisk as ever on 10 degrees and Ireland a freezing 10 degrees. Most of the US was still shivering through a polar vortex which froze large parts of the nation.
This heatwave far outstrips the hottest temperatures ever recorded in several countries. Canada has never been hotter than 45 degrees, and the UK has never topped 38.5 degrees. The current blast of hot weather also puts Australia in some impressive company.
Spain’s highest recorded temperature is 47.2 degrees, Russia’s is 45.4 degrees and Romania has recorded 44.5 degrees. But Death Valley in south eastern California boasts a blistering 56.7 degrees. This was recorded on 10 July, 1913 at the aptly named Furnace Creek Ranch.
But these comparisons are a little unfair given that much of the world is in the grip of winter, as the Bureau of Meteorology’s duty forecaster David House explains.
“The northern hemisphere is in winter at the moment, so you’ve only really got three other continents to look at,” says Mr House, who is based in Adelaide. “If you’ve got a cooler environment over South America and southern Africa, then I think it’d be pretty common to have Australian cities as the hottest in the world when we’re in the depths of summer.”
Far from sweltering, the US has been in the grip of a cold wave, where in some cities boiling water thrown in the air would instantly turn into clouds of snow. The warmer cities of Miami (23 degrees) and Las Vegas (23 degrees) have well and truly exited the throes of winter, joined by Los Angeles on a very sunny 30 degrees.
Climate change to blame?
Social Psychologist Dr Scott Hanson-Easey of the University of Adelaide says heatwaves, both here and abroad, “bring into clear view what we can expect from climate change now and into the future”.
“South Australians, on the whole, expect heatwaves in the summer, but extreme temperatures such as this are unusual,” said Dr Hanson-Easey. “It would be fair to say that this heat event has provided a stark reminder of the inherent dangers of a changing climate.”
He said South Australia’s wine industry was particularly vulnerable.
“I think that people are generally in a ‘bunker down’ and survive mode, waiting for the cooler change to arrive. This is a busy time in Adelaide with the Tour Down Under starting on Sunday, and there are many visitors in town. I suspect they are also finding the conditions pretty confronting.”
High pressure, high temperatures
According to the Bureau’s Mr House, the cause of this sapping heat is a high-pressure system stirring up trouble in the Tasman Sea, and blowing hot northerly winds onto the mainland.
“It blocks a lot of the fronts moving up from the south, so that allows the air over southern Australian to keep warming up. It doesn’t have any sort of cooling from any front moving through,” says Mr House. “That’s the situation we’ve been looking at for the last week or so.”
And despite the intense heat, Adelaide failed to break any worldwide records. The city was thankfully far off the inhuman conditions of the planet’s desert climates, where an unbelievable 51C was recorded in Illizi, Algeria and an equally terrible 48.9C in Dollol, Ethiopia.