A multiweek heat wave in Australia has parched the landscape, triggered damaging wildfires, pushed demand on the power grid to the brink and had toppled at least two significant records as of Thursday.
The first record was broken twice in one night Jan. 18, when the low temperature in Noona, New South Wales, dropped to 96.6 degrees, and Borrona Downs only fell to 96 degrees. These were the warmest overnight lows recorded in the month of January anywhere in the world. The previous record was set by a remote weather station in South Australia more than three decades ago, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
The second significant record broken Thursday was when Adelaide, South Australia, climbed to 116 degrees — the highest temperature for any Australian capital. To deal with the heat, people are cranking up the air conditioning, putting heavy pressure on the electrical grid. The South Australian Government fired up its temporary diesel generators Thursday to manage the extra load, according to the ABC, the country’s largest national broadcaster.
The heat wave’s toll spreads beyond city limits. Dozens of horses were found dead in the dried-up beds of former watering holes around the Alice Springs community in the Northern Territory this week, killed by apparent dehydration or heat stroke. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, horses require eight to 13 gallons of water per day — and more in hot weather.
The Central Land Council opted to euthanize more than 50 wild horses that appeared to be dying of starvation and dehydration near Santa Teresa in the Northern Territory. About 120 feral horses, donkeys and camels are dying near another remote community, the council said in a news release Thursday.
“With climate change well and truly upon us, we expect these emergencies to occur with increasing frequency, and nobody is truly prepared and resourced to respond to them,” the council said in the release.
Most of South Australia was in severe or extreme fire danger on Thursday with extremely hot and dry conditions spreading over the region, fueled by strong winds out of the north. With thunderstorms in the forecast, lightning-ignited fires were also a possibility.
January’s heat wave follows the country’s hottest December on record — Christmas in the Australian Outback was particularly scorching. In the Northern Territory, the average high temperature for the month was six degrees above normal. All of Australia’s territories had much less rain than usual in December except for Victoria, which had over 40 percent more rain than its December average.
Globally, 2018 is likely to have been the fourth-warmest year on record according to Berkeley Earth, which released its findings on Thursday.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Adelaide was the capital of Victoria. It is the capital of South Australia.