Environment

'Autumn may not start until April' as warm summer maintains grip on Australia

Much of Australia is set to bask in unusually warm and dry weather for the start of autumn, with little sign of a seasonal cooling off.

The sixth-warmest summer on record for the country by mean temperatures masked some regions of exceptional heat.

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Tasmania, for instance, had its hottest summer by almost half a degree, while Victoria notched its third warmest, the Bureau of Meteorology said in its seasonal report.

Summer's not done for large parts of Australia.
Summer's not done for large parts of Australia. Photo: Leigh Henningham

Sydney was a standout capital, with Tuesday marking its 26th consecutive day of at least 26 degrees. That's already a week longer than its previous record for extended warmth with another week of similarly mild weather to come, including potentially six days above 30.

"Summer's not keen to give up in its grip on Australia just yet," Andrew Watkins, head of climate prediction services at the bureau, said. "Autumn may not start until April."

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Hot and dry month

The lead-up to autumn has been particularly warm, especially across northern Australia where a short monsoon season left many regions relatively dry.

The north has had only one tropical cyclone make landfall, with the second latest start to the cyclone season in 50 years, the bureau said.

Summer's hottest temperature was 47.8 degrees, recorded at a couple of Pilbara sites - Mardie and Emu Creek - in mid-February.

While there were several large heatwaves through the summer, many places have instead recorded long stints of above-average conditions.

Agata Imielska, head of climate at the bureau's Sydney office, noted the city's "lack of cool conditions, with just one day [in February] dropping below the average for the month".

Sydney Airport averaged 9.6 hours of sunshine a day in February, beating the previous record by more than half an hours. The average for the month is 7.1 hours.

"If you look at the outlook, there are strong odds for day and night temperatures in March to be above average...across the board," Ms Imielska said.

NSW was among the regions posting a relatively dry month, with state-wide rainfall less than one-third the average - the driest February since 1978:

March is typically a transitional month, and the odds swing back to more normal rainfall and cooler conditions from April, Ms Imielska said.

Fire season not yet over

Blair Trewin, a senior climatologist at the bureau, said sea-surface temperatures off south-eastern Australia were relatively warm, limiting their cooling influence.

The ongoing dry and warm outlook means that the fire season for many regions "is definitely not over yet," Dr Trewin said.

South Australia and Victoria had record hot starts to summer but temperatures eased back to more normal conditions for the second half of the season.

The lack of days with strong north-westerly winds spared the region from more severe fire weather, with only a couple of days in February with total fire bans for Victoria, Dr Trewin said.

"March is looking quite warm, with significantly above-normal temperatures for the next week," he said.

Towns like Wagga Wagga and Albury-Wodonga are expecting a string of temperatures in the high 30s from Thursday, potentially challenging March records.

"You can still get prolonged heat in March," Dr Trewin said, noting that Adelaide had set its record of number of days above 35 degrees and Melbourne for days above 30 degrees in the past decade.