In the northeastern United States, temperatures dipped far into the negatives this week.
In Australia, however, it’s summer — and a remarkably hot one. So hot that part of a freeway in Victoria on Australia’s southeastern coast was “melting.” Several hundred miles northeast, in the greater Sydney area, Australians spent Sunday in the most sweltering heat in nearly 80 years.
Such is the extreme weather greeting 2018 from opposite ends of the globe. As winter in the United States brought a historic “bomb cyclone” that unleashed heavy snow and days of bone-chilling winds to the East Coast, summer in Australia, particularly in the south and southeastern parts of the country, is delivering a “catastrophic” heat wave, with record temperatures hovering in the triple digits (Fahrenheit) and fires scorching thousands of acres of dry lands.
Temperature in the Sydney suburb of Penrith reached 47.3 degrees Celsius (117.14 degrees Fahrenheit), just a bit short of surpassing the hottest day on record — 47.8 degrees Celsius (118.04 degrees Fahrenheit) in 1939, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Ahead of the heat wave predicted for the weekend, police in Victoria, home to the city of Melbourne, warned drivers Friday that a six-mile stretch of a freeway in the central part of the state has melted. A spokeswoman for VicRoads, which manages Victoria’s road systems, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that hot weather caused the asphalt to become “soft and sticky” and the road surface to bleed.
(Melting streets are not unheard of. It happened in India two years ago during a heat wave that killed thousands. Photos taken from New Delhi showed distorted road markings caused by melting asphalt.)
Paul Holman, an ambulance commander in Victoria, said that Saturday was “the first extreme heat day of the year,” with temperatures climbing above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The greater Sydney area seemed to have experienced the brunt of the heat wave, with temperatures surpassing 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) Sunday in some areas.
“This heat is a killer. It’s going to be like a blast furnace tomorrow, and you need to adjust what you do,” Holman told local media on Friday. “You need to take care. So put off the sporting events, put off the outside events, stay inside.”
⚠️ SEVERE WEATHER UPDATE: Hot weather for #SouthAustralia, #Victoria, #Tasmania & #NSW. Video current at 1pm AEDT Friday 5 Jan. Latest warnings at https://t.co/iQEA3YDwb5. #heatwave @VicEmergency @CFA_Updates @SA_SES @CFSAlerts @NSWRFS @TasAlert @TasFireService @ABCemergency pic.twitter.com/ozXLQRU564— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) January 5, 2018
By late Sunday morning, organizers of Sydney’s international tennis tournament sent players off the court after temperatures surpassed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Australia’s heat wave — and the United States’s bomb cyclone — both come on the heels of the second-warmest global year on record since the 1800s.
A new report, pointing to signs of climate change such as thawing of Arctic ice and wildfires, says the global average surface air temperature in 2017 exceeded 14.7 degrees Celsius (58.46 Fahrenheit), making last year a bit cooler than 2016, the warmest on record. But 2016 included the tail end of a strong El Niño in the tropical Pacific, and that bumped up temperatures that year, as well as in 2015, according to the report by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a European agency.
Last year, which had unusually warm fall temperatures in the United States, didn’t need that El Niño boost to be the second warmest on record.
Scientists have said that cold spells like the bomb cyclone do not refute that Earth as a whole is warming or that the average temperature of the climate system is steadily rising.
To explain, Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffendaugh used a sports analogy with The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney: “Steph Curry is, every year, near the top of the NBA free throw percentages, he makes on the order of 90 percent of his free throws year in and year out. If you turn on the TV and see him miss a free throw, or see him miss two free throws, that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that he’s no longer a good free throw shooter.”