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Fire threat targets southeastern Australia

Ben Domensino, Thursday November 21, 2019 - 11:24 EDT

Dangerous bushfire weather will target southeastern Australia on Thursday amid a burst of record-challenging spring heat.

Dry, hot and blustery northerly winds swept across South Australia on Wednesday,  causing catastrophic fire danger ratings and areas of raised dust across the state. Murray Bridge (45.3ºC), Nuriootpa (42.1ºC) Neptune Island (34.4ºC) all had their hottest spring day on record on Wednesday, with more than 50 years of observations available at each location. Adelaide's 42.2 degrees at the Kent Town weather station was its warmest spring temperature in a decade.

The hot northerly winds that affected South Australia on Wednesday are moving over southeastern Australia on Thursday, ahead of an approaching cold front. This burst of dry, hot and windy weather is causing a spike in fire danger in multiple states.

Image: ECMWF-HRES model showing hot air moving over southeastern Australia on Thursday afternoon ahead of a cool wind change.

Code Red fire danger ratings are likely in Victoria's Mallee and Northern Country districts on Thursday, where temperatures should reach the low forties and average wind speeds could exceed 50km/h. Code Red, which is equivalent to Catastrophic in other states, is the highest possible fire danger rating in Australia.

Fire danger will also be elevated in other parts of southeastern Australia on Thursday, with Very High to Severe ratings forecast across the rest of Victoria, parts of central and eastern South Australia, most of NSW and the ACT. Very High to Extreme fire danger is likely to affect the eastern half of Tasmania.

Both Adelaide and Sydney were affected by thick smoke on Thursday morning from fires burning nearby. Air quality levels in Sydney were reduced to Hazardous levels, which is the worst possible rating on a six-tiered scale. 

Image: Thick smoke over Sydney Harbour on Thursday morning.

While skies were clearer in Melbourne on Thursday morning, the temperature had already climbed above 32 degrees by 9am. The mercury is forecast to reach 39 degrees in the city before a cool change arrives in the afternoon. If Melbourne gets above 35.8 degrees this will be the city's warmest spring day in seven years.

In addition to the heat and fire danger, severe weather warnings have also been issued for damaging winds in parts of Tasmania and Victoria on Thursday.

Cooler southwesterly winds will drop temperatures across southeastern Australia by Friday as the warmer air mass passes over NSW and Queensland. Fortunately, fire danger ratings in eastern Australia are not forecast to exceed the Very High over the next few days, thanks to a combination of lighter winds and elevated relative humidity.

There are a large number of fires burning across multiple states, so be sure to keep up to date with the latest forecasts and advisories over the coming days.

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