While the eastern states of Australia enjoy a mild start to the year, parts of central and west Australia are bracing for the nation’s highest ever recorded temperature, dust storms and potentially catastrophic bushfires.
After a muggy start to the new year, Melbourne’s skies opened late on New Year’s Day and Sydney recorded a blustery but warm start to the year. But it was a much less comfortable story in other parts of the nation.
Meteorologists were waiting to see if Alice Springs would break its hottest ever January temperature this week. All eyes were on the 1960 January record temperature which, at 45.2C, was under threat.
The thermometer had not strayed below a daily maximum of 43 degrees Celsius since Monday. Jervois Cattle Station, north-east of Alice Springs, recorded a maximum of 44.8C.
Challenging conditions for SA
Extreme heat was also expected in parts of outback South Australia, with temperatures expected to come close to the highest official maximum recorded in Australia. That benchmark was set at Oodnadatta on January 2, 1960, when the mercury climbed to a scorching 50.7 degrees Celsius. Temperatures there on Wednesday and Thursday were forecast to reach 49 degrees.
Meanwhile, South Australia was facing the dual threats of bushfire and cyclone.
The northern parts of the state were braced for Ex-Tropical Cyclone Christine which was expected to bring gale force winds and dust storms.
The Bureau of Meteorology said Christine would reach the state’s western border on Thursday morning and slowly weaken as it moved into New South Wales on Friday.
The bureau’s acting regional director, John Nairn, said it was very rare for former tropical cyclones to pass across South Australia.
“The last tropical cyclone I saw come through South Australia was Tropical Cyclone Vance [in 1999] and that dropped through and went straight through the head of the Bight and out to sea,” he said.
“Very significant gales [were] brought with it but it didn’t track across land so that’s certainly brought us more concern this time. We’re forecasting a dust storm to come through with that so we anticipate some reduced visibility conditions.”
WA, SA bracing for ‘catastrophic’ fire threat
Compounding the concerns for residents and emergency services workers, ‘catastrophic’ fire ratings were also in place for parts of South Australia and Western Australia.
In South Australia, total fire bans were declared for 13 districts and four of them had been given a catastrophic fire danger rating.
The CFS said that in areas with catastrophic fire danger ratings even well prepared, well constructed and defended homes may not be safe during a fire.
WA flood threat
As the threat from ex-Tropical Cyclone Christine moved east, flood warnings were issued by the Bureau of Meteorology for two rivers in Pilbara and a flood watch alert for the Goldfields area.
The Bureau also issued a severe weather warning for a large part of the state’s southeast on Wednesday. Flash floods and winds of up to 100km/h were expected as the storm moves southeast across the state.
Farmers and others living in the Goldfields have been warned to prepare for flooding after up to 100mm of rain fell in the 24 hours to 9am (WST) on Wednesday.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services says people living in an area bordered by Eucla, Balgair, Leinster, Wiluna, Carnegie and Giles should prepare for dangerous conditions throughout the day.
The clean-up has begun in areas close to the point Christine made landfall in the state’s northwest at midnight on Monday.
Roebourne councillor Robin Vandenberg said locals were used to cyclones and knew how to get back up and running quickly.
“We got the power back around 5.30pm yesterday afternoon,” he said. “Driving around last night the areas around here all seemed to be back on.
“It’s a beautiful day here today, everything is getting back to normal.”