By Lorraine Chow, January 2018
As the northeastern U.S. faces freezing winds and record snowfall, a “catastrophic” heat wave in Australia has prompted warnings of dangerous bushfire and has literally melted part of a busy highway.
According to the New York Times, triple-digit temperatures reached “life-threatening levels” over the weekend in many parts of the continent:
“Penrith, a suburb of Sydney, reached 47.3 degrees Celsius on Sunday, or just over 117 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the hottest day on record in Penrith, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales, and the hottest anywhere in the Sydney area since 1939, when a temperature of 47.8 degrees—118 degrees Fahrenheit—set a record that still stands.
At 40.1 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, Melbourne, 550 miles southwest, was comfortable only by comparison.”
On Friday in the Australian state of Victoria, with temperatures hitting 104 degrees Fahrenheit, traffic slowed to a crawl due to melting tar on a six-mile stretch of the Hume Highway in Broadford.
The heat caused the asphalt to become “soft and sticky” and the road’s surface to bleed, a spokeswoman for VicRoads, which manages the state’s road systems, explained to Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“This heat is a killer,” Victoria ambulance commander Paul Holman warned, adding that the heat was “like a blast furnace” and residents should stay indoors.
Similarly, last year, a devastating heat wave in New Delhi also melted roads after temperatures neared 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
The heat in Australia—as well as the “bomb cyclone” in the U.S.—comes as 2017 earned the dubious distinction of Earth’s second-hottest year on record. Signs of climate change include devastating wildfires to diminishing Arctic ice, the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a European Union monitoring center, noted. This follows 2016, when Earth’s surface temperatures were officially the hottest since record-keeping began in 1880.
“It’s striking that 16 of the 17 warmest years have all been this century,” Jean-Noel Thepaut, head of Copernicus, told Reuters, noting the scientific consensus that man-made emissions has exacerbated climate change.
Experts say that unusually cold weather does not disprove global warming. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe pointed out that the record snowfall in the lakefront city of Erie, Pa. late last month could be explained by warmer temperatures increasing the risk of lake-effect snow.
How Hot Was It in Australia? Hot Enough to Melt Asphalt
You probably heard about the arctic blast that turned much of North America into a Popsicle last week, but in Australia, where Christmas is a summer holiday, it was so hot this weekend that the asphalt melted on a stretch of highway.
Across large areas of Australia, temperatures hit life-threatening levels. Penrith, a suburb of Sydney, reached 47.3 degrees Celsius on Sunday, or just over 117 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the hottest day on record in Penrith, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales, and the hottest anywhere in the Sydney area since 1939, when a temperature of 47.8 degrees — 118 degrees Fahrenheit — set a record that still stands.
At 40.1 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, Melbourne, 550 miles southwest, was comfortable only by comparison.
Beaches in Sydney were so crowded, there was barely room to maneuver. Bushfires raged out of control near Melbourne, and on the Hume Highway, which links Sydney and Melbourne, a stretch of asphalt oozed apart in the heat, causing a major traffic jam.
Video by Mega News
The scorching heat was short-lived. By Monday, the temperature in Sydney had dropped to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and Melbourne was in the high 60s.
Summer temperatures in the coastal cities of eastern Australia are generally much lower than those in the country’s central deserts. In January, the average highs in Sydney and Melbourne are around 79 degrees, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Some triple-digit days are far from unheard-of, but climate change has ushered in more intense heat waves. A 2016 “State of the Climate” report by the bureau found that average surface air and sea temperatures had risen by around 1 degree Celsius (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1910, and that “the duration, frequency and intensity of extreme heat events” had increased.
A 2015 study found that from 2000 to 2014, Australia set 12 heat records for every one cold record. By contrast, from 1910 to 1960 — the first 50 years of reliable temperature records in the country — extreme heat and extreme cold were about equally common.
And a study published last year warned that by 2040, heat waves in cities like Sydney and Melbourne could bring temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius: a dangerous and, yes, asphalt-melting 122 degrees Fahrenheit.