NSW: Hottest day since 1939 across central and southern parts
A large slice of central and southern NSW experienced its hottest day since January 1939 today as temperatures soared up to 20C above average into the mid-40s. Sydney's Observatory Hill, where records have been kept since 1859, reported its second highest maximum of 44.2, exceeded only by the 45.3 recorded on 14 January 1939. Sydney Airport's top of 45.2 was 1.8 above its previous all-time record in 67 years of observations, while Williamtown RAAF north of Newcastle also set a new record of 44.4 in 56 years of measurements. Many other shorter-period records also fell and are listed above. The greatest departures above normal were felt on the South Coast where Narooma recorded 43.5, a staggering 20.2 above average, and Moruya Head's 43.1 was 19.2 above. Temperature variations of this magnitude are extremely rare anywhere in Australia.
NSW, VIC, SA: Major bushfires burn homes
In NSW, 31 fires were burning across the state as the New Year fireworks went off in Sydney with major blazes on the Northern Tablelands near Armidale and Tenterfield, in the Hastings Valley and near Kandos on the Central Tablelands. With temperatures in the mid-40s and gusty dry winds forecast, the NSW Rural Fire Service declared a bushfire emergency in 28 zones around Sydney and the state ahead of the event, the first time that pre-emptive emergencies had been used on such a broad scale. The declaration put 5,000 firefighters on standby and equipment in readiness. During today, fires destroyed 11 homes and thousands of hectares of bush and farmland across the state, with a strong southerly change during the evening bringing firestorm conditions in the Central Coast.
- At Junee, 7 homes were destroyed and about 100 residents evacuated as fires ringed the town of 6,000. A farmer was seriously injured with burns to 60% of his body while fighting the fire on his property. On 3 January, preliminary estimates of stock losses were 20,000 sheep, 88 cattle, 5 alpacas and 2 horses, with farmers, veterinarians and the RSPCA taking days to assess and put down injured stock. Approximately 250 square kilometres of pastures and crops were razed and 300km of fencing destroyed leaving farmers with a feeding and containment predicament for surviving stock. Some farmers lost their entire wool clip and 1,000 to 1,500 sheep, this coming after 5 years of drought. The area has been declared a natural disaster to unlock financial assistance.
- On the Central Coast, five fires were burning, closing the F3 and the Pacific Highway between Wahroonga and Ourimbah. Flames jumped the four-lane F3 about 3pm, and traffic queues kilometres long formed either side of the roadblocks. Centres were set up for evacuated residents from Woy Woy, Umina, Phegans Bay, Horsefield Bay, Pearl Beach and Patonga, while a church at Thornleigh was used to provide relief for motorists trapped in Sydney by the closure of the only routes to the north. Evacuations from Phegans Bay had to be conducted by boat by the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol. Four houses were destroyed at Phegans Bay and Horsfield Bay, as well as 8 cars belonging to volunteer firefighters that had been parked by a fire station. At Kariong and Tascott, 625 firefighters and 7 water-bombing helicopters defended homes as a southerly change pushed the main firefronts northwards. Helicopter pilots reported reduced performance because of temperatures in the mid-40s. The area burnt totalled 26 sq km, and was expected to reach 50 sq km when all areas within the containment lines were burnt.
- A fire near Narrawa, 50km NNE of Yass, killed 500 stock and burnt through 2,000ha of grazing land before being controlled by 150 firefighters, 6 aircraft and 50 tankers, assisted by light rain and cooler southerly winds.
- At Merimbula on the far South Coast, 40 people were evacuated, a house damaged and 25ha of coastal bushland burnt out when a small fire flared up around 2pm. It was brought rapidly under control when the southerly change arrived about 4pm, turning the fire back on itself.
- Thirty firefighers and 5 aircraft battled to contain a fire burning in Weddin Mountain National Park, 15km WSW of Grenfell in the Central West. It is believed to have been started by lightning.
- A fire in Ewingar State Forest, 40km E of Tenterfield, burnt through 500ha of forest and 1,300ha of pasture by Wednesday.
- Other fires were reported at Crookwell, Appin, Belrose and Newcastle.
In VIC, a fire that was started by lightning yesterday between Stawell and Great Western ultimately burnt through 75sq km and was surrounded by a 90km containment line by Friday 6 January. The fire approached the Stawell area rapidly at night on New Year's Eve, causing widespread power failures that crippled many water pumps. Eleven houses were destroyed by the fire along with sheds and an as yet unknown number of livestock. Twenty square kilometres of pasture was razed, and two-thirds of the Black Range to the south of Stawell has been burnt. As with the Junee fire in NSW, the biggest problem confronting farmers is finding fodder for surviving stock, and a major hay donation program has begun.
In SA, two fires on the Eyre Peninsula that started on Tuesday 27 December had burnt through nearly 240 square kilometres of scrub and grassland by today. The larger fire, in the Pinkawillinie Conservation Park, 140km W of Whyalla, had burnt through over 22,000 hectares and a fire between Cleve and Cowell had razed about 1,500ha. The fires were controlled but continued to burn within their boundaries, and no homes or properties were under threat.
WA, SA: Record Nullarbor rain cuts Transcontinental Railway
A huge area of the normally parched Nullarbor Plain, which straddles the WA/SA border at the Head of the Great Australian Bight, resembled a lake this morning. Raingauges in the area are sparse, but Nullarbor Station recorded 82.0mm for the 24 hours to 9am, its wettest day in 49 years, while Eucla's 66.6 was that station's wettest January reading in 93 years. Well to the north of the Nullarbor, Warburton Station registered 88.4, adding a full 30mm to its 40-year January record. Nullarbor recorded 62.0mm in the 6 hours to 3am. Responsible for the downpour was a strong northwest cloudband activated by an approaching deepening trough from the west and a mass of very cold air moving in aloft. The temperature difference across the trough was extreme, with readings at 850hPa (about 1.4km above sea level) of around 20C near Giles but only 4C at Esperance.
The rain brought widespread flash flooding, a rare event on the Nullarbor. At Nurina, 240km WNW of Eucla and 480km E of Kalgoorlie, the flooding washed away 1km of track in two sections of the Transcontinental Railway, halting all operations until emergency track repairs were completed on 4 January. One hundred passengers were stranded in Adelaide and another 100 in Perth. Australian Rail Track Corp chief operating officer Wayne James told AAP that the washaway occurred on Saturday afternoon 31 December, and that "more than 200mm of rain fell in 24 hours." Greg Campbell of Kybo Station, close to Nurina, told ABC Radio he had not seen such flooding in 37 years at the station, with water up to 2 feet deep and "lakes from about seven kilometres long, about a kilometre and a half wide." He recorded over 150mm, more than twice the rain received in the whole of 2005.
WA: Extremely low temperatures cover half the state
While NSW sweltered with temperatures more than 20C above average, the heavy cloud and rain across more than half of WA brought maximum temperatures up to 19 below normal. The maximum temperature anomaly map below shows the extent of this most unusual event. Much of the normally hot Goldfields and Eucla regions struggled to reach the mid to high teens; Laverton only got to 15.4, Balgair 17.0 and Eucla, Eyre, Forrest and Wiluna just topped 18C.
Earlier, colder drier air of southern origin combined with the lack of daytime warming allowed minimum temperatures to drop to record or near-record levels in many parts of the west and southwest. Narembeen recorded its lowest January minimum in 35 years with a reading of 8.5, while Carnegie, 320km N of Laverton, set a 16-year record with 15.0C. Stations that came within a degree of their January records were Learmonth Airport, Denham, Dalwallinu, Wongal Hills, Karnet, Cape Naturaliste, Dwellingup, Beverley, Brookton, Pingelly and Leonora.
WA, NT: Heavy monsoon rain in the north
A monsoonal trough lying from a low near Port Hedland WA to north of Darwin generated heavy if patchy rain from the East Gascoyne to the North Kimberley, with more widespread moderate to heavy falls across the NT Top End. Kuri Bay on the north coast, 220km NNE of Derby, recorded 132.4mm for the 24 hours to 9am today, following that up with 80.0 to 9am Monday (and 91.0 to 9am Tuesday!)
NSW: Strong winds cause damage in Sydney
A southerly change that moved through Sydney soon after 9pm brought down powerlines in Sutherland and the St George area and resulted in 50 callouts by SES to attend to wind-damaged homes and downed trees in Sutherland Shire. Flights were diverted from Sydney Airport, with wind there gusting to 94km/h. Other high gusts with the passage of the change included 111km/h at Kiama and 117 at Cabramurra (more gusts and high AWS reports below).