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A coastal town in Western Australia hit 123.3°F (50.7°C) on Thursday, tying the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.
The intense heat has been scorching the region all week, and is forecast to peak on Friday, potentially setting a new all-time temperature record in the town of Onslow. Earlier in the week, the Australian government's Bureau of Meteorology issued an "extreme heat wave" warning, but the high temperature in Onslow was expected to reach only 118°F.
Residents have been advised to take "extra care to stay indoors with air conditioning, or if they have to be outdoors, to stay in the shade and keep up with fluids," the Bureau of Meteorology's Luke Huntington told the BBC.
“The Pilbara region [in Western Australia] has had persistent hot temperatures over the last few months, and there has been no rainfall to really take away the hot air that has built up,” Huntington told the local news outlet WAtoday. “Over the next few months, there is a high chance that temperatures on a day-to-day basis will be above average, at least until the wet season rains hit properly.”
Satellite data has confirmed that the past seven years have been the hottest on record, the BBC reported, as climate change continues to affect Australia in profound ways. Along with the brutal heat, brush fires made worse by three years of drought have broken out across western portions of the country, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.
Wildfires have been a persistent problem for Australia in recent years, and numerous scientific studies have established the causal link between rising temperatures and increased wildfires. In 2020, brush fires burned 46 million acres, killed 34 people, destroyed more than 3,500 homes and displaced or killed an estimated 3 billion animals.
The fires have also taken their toll on Australia's plant life.
“In Australia, fire frequency has increased rapidly in some areas, and there are now regions in the southeast and south with fire intervals shorter than 20 years. This is significant because it means some types of vegetation won’t reach maturity, and this could put ecosystems at risk,” Pep Canadell, chief research scientist in the CSIRO Climate Science Centre and executive director of the Global Carbon Project, told the Environment News Service.
Since temperature records began being kept in Australia, the nation has seen average surface temperatures rise by 2.5°F, while ocean temperatures have warmed by 1.8°F. While 2021 was the fifth hottest year on record for global surface temperatures, ocean temperatures set a new record.
The previous high temperature record of 123.3°F was set on Jan. 2, 1960. The mercury has topped 122°F on only three occasions in Australia's recorded history. On Thursday, in addition to Onslow tying the high-temperature mark, two other Western Australian towns, Roebourne and Mardie, exceeded 122 degrees, both recording a temperature of 122.9°F.
Extreme heat in Australia is now an expected part of life. In December, the Bureau of Meteorology forecast a summer that would be marked by extreme weather and severe heat wave conditions.