Australia swelters on its hottest day bushfires rage
Australia experienced its hottest average day across the country Tuesday, with the national temperature soaring as devastating wildfires continued to burn across New South Wales (NSW) state.
The average maximum temperature across the country on Tuesday was 40.9 degrees Celsius (105.6 Fahrenheit), according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology — beating the previous 2013 record of 40.3 Celsius (104.5 Fahrenheit).
That’s just the average nationwide figure — the heat has spiked even higher in some places, like the town of Ceduna in South Australia, which hit 45.5 degrees Celsius (nearly 114 Fahrenheit).
The heat wave comes as deadly bush fires continue to ravage NSW, exacerbated by the heat, wind, and the worst drought in decades. According to the state’s Rural Fire Service, 100 active fires are still burning across the state, of which 54 are not yet contained. A total fire ban remains in place statewide until midnight on Saturday.
As records fall and blazes continue, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been heavily criticized for taking a pre-Christmas holiday, believed to be in Hawaii.
Newspaper cartoonists depicted the leader lounging on a beach, while smoke from the Australian bush fires blighted his view.
The hashtag #WhereTheBloodyHellAreYou emerged online in response to the PM’s absence. It was tweeted by the model Lara Worthington (previously Lara Bingle) who rose to fame in a 2006 Tourism Australia advertisement featuring the now-famous slogan: “So where the bloody hell are you?”
She wrote: “Scott Morrison: WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU??? #AustraliaBurns #AustraliaFires”
Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack defended Morrison, telling state broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), that it was a pre-planned family trip and he was due to travel to India and Japan in January, when politicians usually take their summer break.
Australia is heavily reliant on coal-fired power, and Morrison has repeatedly come under fire from activists for his government’s climate policies.
On Tuesday, members of the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action — comprising dozens of former senior emergency service leaders — said the Prime Minister had been “missing in action” on climate change.
The group now plans to hold its own summit on Australia’s bushfire crisis in the coming year.
“More country has been burned, more homes lost, three times more homes lost than our worst previous fire season in history and the fires are still burning,” said Greg Mullins, former NSW Fire and Rescue commissioner, on Tuesday.
“The driving force behind this is climate change,” he added. “In our decades of service, we’ve seen Australia become drier, hotter and extreme weather conditions far more severe.”
The soaring temperatures come just days after Australia, along with several other big polluters, were accused of obstructionist behavior at the UN climate summit COP25.
The summit included almost 200 countries, and was supposed to agree the rules of the 2015 Paris climate accord. Australia in particular was accused of seeking loopholes by recycling old carbon credits, in order to meet their commitments under the accord.
The bureau warned on Tuesday that temperatures were likely to climb even higher as the heat wave continues to spread east into Victoria and NSW states over the course of the week.
Earlier this week, the city of Perth in Western Australia experienced three consecutive days above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) — which had never before happened in December, according to CNN meteorologists.
Australia’s bush fires have been burning for two months now. They have destroyed more than 760 homes and damaged nearly 300 more, left four people dead, and potentially killed hundreds of koalas and other wildlife.
The drought and the fires are the most urgent symptoms of Australia’s climate crisis. Disasters like the fires and floods have devastated the livelihoods of farmers and wrought millions of dollars’ worth of damage. As the heat and drought ramp up, water may be running out — the city of Sydney, home to more than 5 million people, could see its dams run dry by 2022.
The greater Sydney area is now under level 2 water restrictions, which limit the outdoor use of drinking water. It is the first time the restrictions have been implemented since 2003, during a drought that lasted until 2009.
CNN’s Robert Shackelford, Taylor Ward, Michael Guy and Alex Stambaugh contributed reporting.