Canberra: Hottest day and 10th Anniversary of the Darkest


2003 Canberra firestorm
2003 Canberra firestorm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UPDATE 19/01/2013 22:05: The Bureau of Meteorology has recorded 42.0°c as Canberra’s maximum temperature for 18/01/2013; a record for January and 0.2°c below the all time record.  Weatherzone is back to 42 too.

UPDATE 19/01/2013 09:39: I’m a little confused about yesterday’s maximum temperature.  The excellent Weatherzone website listed 42.0°c at Canberra Airport yesterday, but have since revised that back to 41.0°c and I’ve seen 40.2°c on other sources.  At time of writing, the official Bureau of Meteorology historical observation had not been recorded.  It was definitely the hottest day in 2013.  And read about the 2003 bush fires instead… that’s the interesting part.

Today the temperature hit 42.0°c with 30-40km/h winds, the hottest January day in Canberra’s history.  It beat the previous record of 41.4°c set on 31 January 1968.  The highest temperature ever recorded in Canberra is 42.2°c on 1 February 1968 (no surprise).

Somewhat eerily, 18 January is the anniversary of the 2003 Canberra bushfires, the deadliest bushfire in Canberra’s recorded history.  It was a 40°c day with 60km/h winds.

Map showing the progress of the fires over time
Map showing the progress of the fires over time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three fires had been burning for almost 2 weeks in remote bush before the gates of hell opened.  The three combined and generated a weather system that was far beyond anything that models had predicted.  There were 4 deaths and almost 500 homes and other properties were damaged or destroyed.  (Before this fire, only 4 houses had been lost to bushfires in Canberra’s history.)

The speed and intensity of the fire caused CSIRO to rewrite their models of fire behaviour; in particular the wind generated by the heat and rapid intake of air to fuel the fire.

As it happened, I missed the lot.  Chikako and I had arrived from Japan on Friday 17 January.  We’d left on the Thursday after a brief snow shower in Kobe brought the temperature down to about 0°c despite the sunshine afterwards.  First thing on Saturday we drove to Sydney to see my family at my sister’s house.  As we neared the Royal National Park south of Sydney, I noticed very thick smoke rising from a fire that had probably started only 10-20 minutes before.  “That’s going to be bad”, I thought to myself.  Had my rear vision mirror been capable of seeing 200km behind me, I would have seen the beginnings of a fire-storm that would dwarf any bush fire I’d experienced.

Returning on the Sunday, by now having seen the news, we stopped at the Eagle Hawk Hill, just before the ACT border; the story of the Duffy petrol station exploding made me wonder if any petrol stations would be open in Canberra.  when we got to our apartment in Bruce, I found burnt leaves on our balconies.  The nearest fire had been some 10km away and at a lower altitude.  The wind must have been strong.

For a much more comprehensive coverage, here’s today’s live blog from the Canberra Times.  Look at the wedding photos; no-one’s forgetting that day.

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