Australia

Australia sees record-breaking March heat-wave

Birdsville Hotel in central west Queensland Image copyright Mark Kolbe
Image caption Birdsville in central west Queensland has seen temperatures soar in March

March is usually the start of autumn in Australia but this year heat records are being set across the country.

An exceptional hot spell had covered much of northern and central Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said.

The Northern Territory and Queensland had their hottest March days on record, the BOM said in a special climate statement on Tuesday.

This also included the highest temperature ever observed in Australia in the second half of March, it said.

"March is a somewhat unusual month for extreme heat in the northern tropics," it said, explaining that rainfall usually keeps soils moist and temperatures cooler.

But this year, lower than usual rainfall and a late wet season dried out the soil, which in turn reduced evaporative cooling.

"The most widespread extreme heat occurred on 19 March... with temperatures at or near record levels for the time of year over a large area encompassing much of western Queensland, most of the Northern Territory, the northern and eastern outback of South Australia, and the far north and west of New South Wales, extending as far south as the far northwest of Victoria," said the BOM.

Soaring heat

The most notable prolonged heat was recorded at the remote community of Borroloola in the Northern Territory.

With its many large cattle stations, Borroloola is the capital of the Gulf region. In 20 years of temperature observations made at the local airport prior to this year, 38.8 °C was the highest March temperature.

This was exceeded 18 days in a row from 5 to 22 March, with 14 of those 18 days exceeding the March record of 40.0 °C recorded from another Borroloola site where temperatures were measured from 1957 to 1978.

This year, the highest temperature, 43.3 °C, occurred on 12 March, more than 3 °C in excess of the previous record at either Borroloola site.

The central west Queensland town of Birdsville, best known for its annual horse race, was also hit hard.

On 19 March the mercury soared to 46.5 °C —the highest temperature ever recorded in Australia in the second half of March and 3.2 °C warmer than anything previously recorded in Queensland in the second half of March.

Weeks before the record was set, residents said the only time you could enjoy a walk outside was to go out just before sunrise.

"You can't really do anything later; you have to stay indoors in the air-conditioning," Birdsville local 25-year-old Elise Taylor told The Australian newspaper in early March.

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