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Australia Just Had Its Hottest Day On Record

A swimmer jumps from a jetty in an effort to cool off in Adelaide, Australia, as the country experiences record temperatures.
David Mariuz
A swimmer jumps from a jetty in an effort to cool off in Adelaide, Australia, as the country experiences record temperatures.

Australia experienced its hottest day ever recorded on Tuesday, according to preliminary results from its national Bureau of Meteorology.

The average maximum temperature across the country was 105.6 degrees Fahrenheit, topping the previous record of 104.5 degrees, set in January 2013.

There's good reason to think that this record could be smashed again within the week — Diana Eadie, a meteorologist at Australia's BOM, said that the heat on Wednesday "will only intensify."

For weeks, Australia has been battling historic wildfires, exacerbated by brutally dry conditions, in many parts of the country. Nearly 100 wildfires are burning in the state of New South Wales alone, prompting authorities there to impose a total fire ban through Saturday.

To give you some sense of just how hot it was on Tuesday, Stu Pengelly from Perth, in the state of Western Australia, provided a sizzling example: He managed to cook pork in his hot car. "I cooked 1.5kg pork roast inside an old Datsun Sunny for 10hrs," he said, as Australia's 9News reported. "It worked a treat!" Photos showed that the meat was indeed cooked through.

A photo posted on social media showed supermarket shelves in Adelaide cleaned out of ice pops.

In the south Australian town of Oodnadatta, which has hit at least 112.8 degrees, blistering temperatures prompted roadhouse manager Hayley Nunn to issue a challenge. "People say to me they love summer. If you love summer, come out and experience this, because you will not love it," Nunn told Reuters.

Authorities saythe heat wave, part of a "long-term warming trend," has been exacerbated by a phenomenon known as a "positive Indian Ocean Dipole," or IOD — the counterpart to the El Niño/La Niña cycle in the Pacific.

IOD refers to the difference in sea surface temperatures between the western and eastern sides of the Indian Ocean. A "positive phase" means that the western side of the ocean is significantly warmer than the eastern side. That means fewer clouds form on the eastern sideof the ocean, which can contribute to drier weather in Australia.

In a December report, the Australian government said it expected the strongly positive dipole conditions to continue through midsummer.

The strength of this phenomenon has been a "dominant influence on Australia's climate this year," BOM climatologist Blair Trewin said. "It's on track to be one of the driest years on record for Australia. So you don't have any soil moisture or air moisture to moderate the heat. And it just contributes further to making the situation even more extreme."

Australia's BOM says global warming is contributing to the warming temperatures. "Australia has warmed by just over one degree [Celsius] since 1910, with most of the warming occurring since 1950," the bureau stated.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.