No matter how long you’ve lived in Birdsville, baker Adrian Miller reckons you never get used to the heat.
With the Bureau of Meteorology predicting much of Australia to have a hotter than average summer, the resilience of Birdsville folk is sure to be tested.
BoM records show the far-western Queensland outback hamlet had an average temperature of 43.5 degrees in January – the highest average January temperature in the country – with the mercury jumping between the high-30s and mid-40s.
“When it gets below 40 degrees here in summer it feels cool,” Mr Miller told The New Daily.
“It was in the low-30s (recently) and we think that’s going to be the last cool stint for a while. You never really get used to it and if you talk to some of the Aboriginal elders who have lived here all their lives they say the same thing.”
Mr Miller, who lives in an insulated six-metre shipping container, reckons the mercury doesn’t stop rising until about 6pm.
According BoM, most of Australia has a 60-80% chance of topping long-term average maximums for November, December and January.
“The chances of the November to January maximum temperature exceeding the long-term median maximum temperature are greater than 70% over Queensland and the Northern Territory,” the Bureau has stated.
“Odds over western Queensland increase to greater than 80%.”
In Western Australia, chances of November-January maximums exceeding long-term average maximums are greater than 60%, with odds rising to more than 70% in the far north.
An exception is the southwest Mediterranean region where odds are closer to 50%.
The populated south-east region (NSW, Victoria, SA, Tasmania and southern Queensland) is similarly expected to be warmer than usual.
“The chances that the average minimum temperature for the November to January period will exceed the long-term median are greater than 60% over most of southeast Australia, except for the lower southeast of SA and southwest Victoria,” BoM stated.
“Probabilities rise to greater than 70% over northeast SA, and most of NSW.”
University of Southern Queensland climate scientist Dr Roger Stone said key weather factors such as the Southern Oscillation Index and the El Nino phenomenon were now ‘neutral’, basically meaning they were having no impact.
“The Quasi-Biennial Oscillation had an impact in a dry winter in Queensland and northern Australia but has started to dissipate,” he said.
“We may be seeing some other factors come into play and even be seeing some climate change going on.”
Dr Stone said dry conditions were having an impact on agriculture in parts of the nation, with high evaporation rates in dams and decreased thunderstorm intensity in New South Wales and Queensland.
“I know some of the cotton growers are definitely getting sick of the dry conditions,” he said. “But ‘above average’ temperatures are pretty much ‘par for the course’ these days.”
Back in Birdsville, boilermaker Sam Barnes is another used to working in hot conditions but isn’t easily intimidated.
“Last summer there were a few 45-degree days when I was welding inside a water tanker,” Mr Barnes said.
“It was pretty hot, but it didn’t bother me too much. I grew up here so that kind of heat is nothing new and it’s a dry heat, which is much easier to withstand than humidity.”
Nor does he feel these scorchers are necessarily a trend.
“I remember summers being much worse in Birdsville when I was a kid.
“It was just as hot as it is these days but we didn’t have decent air conditioning in our houses and cars,” he said.
“The fact that you can escape from the heat makes it much more bearable.”
Others places to record some scorching temperatures last summer included the South Australian ‘fly-in, fly-out’ community of Moomba which had the warmest single temperature in Australia last year (49 degrees) and Oodnadatta which had average daily maximums of 46.5 degrees from January 2-8, 2013.
But again, people like Oodnadatta Aboriginal School principal Ned Loades take heat in their stride.
“The school is one of the few places in town where there’s air-conditioning so it’s one of the cooler places and classes continue regardless,” he said.
“It’s a harsh climate out here but we still love it.”
With Kelly Theobald