Too hot? Get used to it.
That's the message from the Bureau of Meteorology, which is predicting that this week's heatwave will be just a taste of an extended hot and dry summer to come.
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The heat is on for Victoria
Temperatures are expected to climb above 40 degrees as a heatwave hits Victoria.
"Odds are in favour of hotter and drier conditions to the end of March," Karl Braganza, manager of climate monitoring at the Bureau of Meteorology, said.
The current heatwave - possibly the largest in territorial extent since 1972 - is set to deliver maximum temperatures of 45 degrees or higher for as long as a week in desert regions. Large areas of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia are likely to see the mercury reach 40 degrees or more each day for the period, however Sydney is unlikely to be largely affected.
As the heatwave rolls into a second day, Friday has been declared a day of Total Fire Ban across Victoria, meaning no fires can be lit or be allowed to remain alight in the open air.
The fire danger in the Wimmera, South West and Central districts has been rated extreme. In the state’s other districts, it is rated severe.
BoM records released today show Australia ended 2012 with record average maximum temperatures for the final four months of the year, setting up much of south-eastern Australia for high fire risks.
Average maximum temperatures for the past four months were 1.61 degrees above the 1961-90 average, at 32.47 degrees, narrowly exceeding the previous record for the period set in 2002.
The extreme heat comes after a year in which much of Australia went from wetter and cooler conditions than normal for the first three months of the year to hotter and drier ones by the end of December.
The overall figures for 2012 show the average temperature for the year was 0.11 degrees above the 1961-90 average of 21.81 degrees. Rainfall averaged 476 millimetres, compared with a 465-millimetre average over the 1961-1990 period - well down from the 699 millimetres recorded for the 2011.
The bureau noted in its report how much southern Australia in particular had dried out during the course of the year.
“The year also saw unusually persistent high atmospheric pressure near southern Australia,” the report said.
“This was associated with greatly suppressed westerly frontal and storm activity in south-west Australia, and indeed southern Australia as a whole, and was reflected in very poor winter–spring rainfall in many southern areas.”
Australia may be heading back towards the drier conditions seen before the two recent years of relatively wet conditions.
“That April-to-November period has been dry pretty much since the 1990s, and even in the last few years it has been reasonably dry in between the two really wet summer season,” Dr Braganza said.
“The fronts and changes that are coming through just don't have as much rain in them.”
Victoria's high bushfire alert
Thousands of Victorian firefighters are on high alert as the state braces for some of the worst bushfire danger since the deadly Black Saturday fires.
But fire authorities say they are well prepared for the threat and have learnt much since 173 people were killed in 2009.
Many parts of the state are expected to experience temperatures above 40C until mid-next week, with an extreme fire rating declared in the southwest region for Friday.
Country Fire Authority state duty officer Tony Bearzatto says about 8000 firefighters from the CFA, Department of Sustainability and Environment and Metropolitan Fire Brigade are on standby.
Forty aircraft, including two aircranes, are also ready to be called into action.
Mr Bearzatto has urged Victorians to avoid doing anything that might spark a fire, particularly farmers using machinery for harvesting.
‘‘Today’s very hot statewide, with fire danger ratings high to very high in most parts of the state,’’ he said.
‘‘Tomorrow we’re expecting hotter and drier and windier conditions with extreme fire danger ratings in the southwest and the Wimmera area, which is the first for the season, and severe fire danger ratings for the rest of the state, except east Gippsland.’’
Mr Bearzatto said while conditions were extreme, they were not as bad as the lead-up to Black Saturday.
‘‘The conditions in 2009 were worse than they are now and of course we also had a longer drying period and longer period of drought prior to 2009,’’ he said.
‘‘But having said that, it doesn’t mean that the risk is any less.
‘‘We’re still talking about extreme conditions where the fires will quickly become uncontrollable and unpredictable and fast-moving, so people need to be aware of that and plan accordingly.’’
Mr Bearzatto said the state was better prepared to respond to major bushfires.
‘‘We certainly have improved structures in place, better work between agencies and also communication procedures and information flow to the public,’’ he said.
With Stephen Cauchi and AAP