Australia wildfires rage as Sydney breaks all-time September heat record

By Renee Duff,
Australia's southeast has sweltered through a spring heat wave across several states. Photo by Dan Himbrechts/EPA-EFE
Australia's southeast has sweltered through a spring heat wave across several states. Photo by Dan Himbrechts/EPA-EFE

Australia's meteorological spring season has gotten off to an unusually hot start, which is exacerbating the wildfire situation across New South Wales, where dozens of blazes are burning.

Although the worst of the heat has ended, persistent dry weather and gusty winds will prolong wildfire dangers, AccuWeather meteorologists warn.


The intense heat is taking place as the regular climate phenomenon El Niño strengthens. El Niño occurs when the water temperatures near the equator of the eastern Pacific Ocean are higher than the long-term historical average -- and this can alter weather patterns around the globe. In Australia, El Niño has been linked to an increase in warm, dry weather.

The Sydney airport recorded its fourth consecutive day of temperatures in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday. At this point in the spring, historical average high temperatures are only around 67 degrees F in New South Wales' most populated city. Meteorological spring officially began in Australia on Sept. 1.


Prior to the latest heat wave, the hottest it had been at the airport in September was 96 degrees F on Sept. 29, 2000, according to climate records from Australia's Bureau of Meteorology. This record was surpassed this week, with a temperature of 97 degrees F on Tuesday.

"A strong area of high pressure has led to the intense heat," AccuWeather lead international forecaster Jason Nicholls said.

The hot weather created brutal conditions for runners in the Sydney Marathon on Sunday, as more than two dozen people were taken to the hospital with heat-related illnesses.

The spring heat burst in this part of the world follows Australia's warmest winter on record.

Residents eager for relief from the heat can expect temperatures to return to levels near the historical average through the weekend.

"A cold front will lift northward and bring much cooler weather to Sydney and surrounding areas," Nicholls said.

High temperatures will return to levels more typical of the time of year, generally in the 60s and lower 70s F.

"I'm not seeing a return of heat to eastern Australia anytime soon, but there can be some heat that builds in Western Australia later next week," Nicholls said.


The heat throttling back will not put an end to the risk of wildfire ignition and spread, AccuWeather meteorologists warn.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported Wednesday evening that more than 70 wildfires were actively burning across the state, with 30 of those yet to be contained. More than 1,000 firefighters and incident management personnel were working to control the blazes.

Occasional bouts of gusty winds through the weekend can fan the active flames and result in more blazes burning out of control.

"I am not sure we have a repeat of the 2019-20 wildfire situation, but I am really concerned for wildfires during the summer," Nicholls said.

The wildfire season of 2019-20 resulted in the deaths of dozens of people and charred more than 10 million hectares of land, according to CNN. More than a billion animals are believed to have died amid that extreme fire season.

As the risk of wildfire ignition and spread remains high across the region, experts caution against the use of outdoor flames or other spark-generating materials.

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