You weren’t imagining it: the heatwave that rolled across Perth, Adelaide, Victoria and inland NSW really was among the toughest Australia’s seen.
The Bureau of Meteorology, in a special climate statement, says this month’s heatwave ranked with the most severe recorded in Australia.
“The heatwave ranked alongside those of January-February 2009, January 1939 and January 1908 as one of the most significant multi-day heatwaves on record.”
The heatwave was more notable for persistent heat than for individual extreme hot days, but some locations still had their hottest day on record.
The highest temperature recorded was 49.2 degrees at Emu Creek in Western Australia on January 10.
In southeast Australia, temperatures peaked at 47.2°C at Keith West in the Upper Southeast district of South Australia on January 14.
The highest temperatures of the heatwave in Victoria and Tasmania also occurred on January 14; 46.5 degrees at Charlton and 40.2 degrees at Bushy Park.
Temperatures remained high for the following three days. 46 degrees was exceeded in Victoria on both January 15 and January 17.
January 17 was also the hottest day of the heatwave in New South Wales, with 45.5 degrees at Hay Airport.
How the heatwave developed
The heatwave started January 8 with a dome of very hot air over Western Australia, setting a number of records before moving east to be over the southeast of the continent.
A near-stationary high pressure system was over the Tasman Sea from January 13, directing mainly northerly winds over southeast Australia before a trough moved across the region on January 17-18, bringing cooler air and ending the heatwave.
The major area affected by the heatwave consisted of Victoria, Tasmania (particularly the western half), southern New South Wales away from the coast, and the southern half of South Australia.
“While peak temperatures mostly fell short of those observed in 2009 and 1939, extreme heat persisted for a longer period than it did in those heatwaves over some areas, particularly near-coastal regions of Victoria and South Australia (including Melbourne and Adelaide).”
Melbourne set records with four consecutive days of 41 degrees and above and two consecutive nights of 27 degrees and above. Adelaide set a record with five consecutive days of 42 degrees and above. In both cases, the 2014 heatwave was less intense but longer than that of 2009 (when Melbourne and Adelaide had three and four consecutive days, respectively, of 43 degrees and above).
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