Melbourne heatwave: city expecting 44C as Victoria faces hottest day since Black Saturday

children play in a fountain as they cool down from the heatwave
Children play in a fountain as they cool down from the heatwave at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Victoria. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Victoria and Tasmania on alert for bushfires amid extreme weather forecast as generators fail at three coal-fired power stations

— Victoria may experience its hottest day since the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires on Friday, with its main power stations at reduced capacity after a third coal-fired generator shut down overnight.

Energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio told 3AW radio on Friday morning that she “can’t rule out brown-outs” with three generators across the Yallourn and Loy Yang A power stations out of action, meaning the state is down more than 1000MW of power generation capacity.

“We have aging coal-fired power stations,” D’Ambrosio said. “They are becoming less reliable.”

Between 5,000 and 10,000 homes lost power for a few hours overnight, but those faults have been attributed to localised issues.

The Alcoa aluminium smelter at Portland in western Victoria also reduced production for an hour on Thursday night to reduce demand, and South Australia — which experienced a record breaking heatwave on Thursday including a high of 46.6°C in Adelaide — switched on emergency diesel generators for the first time.

However the Australian Energy Market Operator said it was not expecting blackouts on Friday.

Temperatures in Melbourne reached 35°C by 8am on Friday, and hovered around 30°C overnight.

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Chris Godfred said the sweltering night would have set records for high minimum overnight temperatures, but for a slightly cooler morning on Thursday.

BoM records are taken in 24-hour intervals from 9am to 9am, and in some places — such as Shepparton in northeast Victoria, which was 27.8°C at 9am on Thursday but did not dip below 29.1°C overnight — that meant minimum temperature records remained intact.

Quick Guide: Heatwaves and climate change in Australia
According to the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, Australia has warmed by 1°C since 1910, and temperatures will increase in the future.

So how will climate change affect future heatwaves in Australia?

The CSIRO and BoM have compiled different models for predicting the outcome of climate change in Australia to produce a guide to how different regions will likely be affected.

They found that every part of Australia will continue to experience increases in average temperature, and will have a higher frequency of hot days.

The duration of hot spells will increase in every region. In many areas in the northern half of Australia, the average number of days above 35°C could increase by two to three times.

Late in the century, towns such as Darwin, Alice Springs and Broome may experience days with temperatures above 35°C for about a third of the year.

These higher temperatures will also result in higher evaporation, which will continue to make drought conditions worse.

 

Melbourne was forecast to reach 44°C by mid-afternoon, approaching the all-time hottest day of 46.4°C on 7 February 2009, when Australia’s deadliest bushfires killed 173 people, burned through 450,000 hectares and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

A cool change was expected to bring relief by 4pm but gusty north and north-westerly winds were predicted to sweep across the western districts of the state, with a chance of dry lightning, before hitting the capital city in the afternoon.

The combination, coming after months of drought in northern areas, has created a very high fire risk.

Firefighters in Victoria and Tasmania are on high alert and have warned campers and bushwalkers to rethink their plans to head out early for the long weekend. Large swaths of the Tasmanian wilderness are already burning.

Victorian emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp told ABC News Breakfast he had 500 firefighters in control centres across the state and 60 aircraft on standby.

“We are ready,” he said. “What I keep saying is are you, as the community of Victoria, ready? Have you downloaded your Vic Emergency app? Do you know who the emergency broadcaster is? Because if you’re travelling around and you’re enjoying the last of the holidays, you need to be able to access good information to make good decisions.”

Crisp urged people to be sensible in the heat and said that since December emergency services had received more than 300 callouts for people or animals who had been left in hot cars — averaging about 10 a day on really hot days.

There is a total fire ban in both states. The fire danger for parts of south-east Tasmania, around Hobart, has been set at severe.

The fire danger rating for the Mallee and Northern Country districts of Victoria is extreme on Friday, with a severe rating for the Wimmera, South West, Central and Western and Southern Gippsland areas.

Heatwaves and prolonged drought have caused mass fish kills in western NSW as well as mass deaths of feral camels and horses in central Australia, renewing already loud calls for Australia to take serious action on climate change.


by Calla Wahlquist | The Guardian