Temperatures in Hobart hit a new March record of 39.1C on Saturday, the day after official figures released by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology showed that Australia had just suffered its hottest summer on record.
As heat continued to grip the continent, the Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) said the conditions forecast for Friday and Saturday were “equal to the worst we have seen this bushfire season”.
As of 8:30GMT on Saturday, 39 wildfires were still burning in Tasmania, and 23 in Victoria. According to the TFS and VicEmergency, a number of the fires remained out of control, with more than 300 firefighters battling out-of-control blazes in Victoria.
The majority of the fires were sparked by lightning on Friday, and firefighting attempts are being hampered by the dry conditions and the strong gusty winds. The winds on Tasmania were gusting up to 70 kilometres per hour, ensuring the fires were fast-moving and dangerous.
Tasmania usually enjoys cooler weather than the mainland, but an area of high pressure in the Tasman Sea is dragging a mass of hot air from Victoria down across Tasmania.
The heat follows on from an extremely hot summer for the whole country.
For the period of December, January and February, both the mean and the maximum temperature broke the previous record set in 2012-2013 by almost a whole degree.
In New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory the summer was the warmest on record. For Tasmania it was the second hottest summer on record.
Climatologist Ian Barnes-Keoghan said rising temperatures were part of a broader trend happening nationwide and across the globe.
“Tasmania is a degree warmer than it was 100 years ago and a lot of that warming has happened in the past 50 years, so this is certainly part of a trend,” he said.
As well as being hot, it was also very dry for many places. Darwin suffered its driest summer period for 80 years. The feeble monsoon with its delayed onset, delivered less than 60 percent of the long term average.
The exception to the dry spell was northeastern Queensland which suffered some of its worst flooding in decades.