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Canberra gets one-fifth the rainfall, four times the heat

Trees across Canberra are losing their leaves in shock and gardens are ''going to hell'', after one of the hottest and driest summers the ACT has seen in years.

Canberra had one-fifth of its average summer rainfall over December, January and February, with just 29.8 millimetres of rain falling over the entire season so far.

The average rainfall for a Canberra summer is 165 millimetres, meaning the territory has a lot of catching up to do.

On top of that, the ACT was forecast to have its 20th summer day above 35 degrees on Tuesday, two more than the previous record in 1982-83.

In a Canberra summer, the average number of days that reach or exceed 35 degrees is just five.

The record-breaking conditions have seen ACT trees turn brown and bare and gardens shrivel in the heat.


Horticulturalist Rick Connolly said he had his work cut out for him, as the whole city had pretty much been burnt to a crisp over the past three months. ''It looks like there'll be a lot of work to patch up and heal gardens once the heatwave's been through, with people maybe looking at upgrading their irrigation,'' he said.

Mr Connolly said he had mowed only one lawn in the past few months and had mainly been doing landscaping work. ''Keeping plants alive is my living, so when you look at it in those terms, it's kind of a good time,'' he said.

''On one hand, gardens are just going to hell; on the other hand, it's good because people need me and my expertise.''

Urban Treescapes is an ACT government organisation in charge of maintaining, among other things, the 23,000 young trees across the territory. Acting manager Luke Bulkeley said a number of deciduous trees had begun losing their leaves early, as a reaction to the extreme weather.

''It's a natural mechanism the trees can use in tough times. And if we were to receive rains between now and the next few months, we'll see a flush on those trees,'' he said.

Mr Bulkeley said Canberrans should take every opportunity to help the city's foliage, encouraging them to give nearby trees a drink every now and then. ''Every bit can help,'' he said.

Sean Carson, from the Bureau of Meteorology, said relief might be on the way for Canberra, with a cool change and up to 20 millimetres of rainfall forecast for the weekend.

''There's an intense tropical low off Western Australia and it looks like it's going to drift through Western Australia, potentially bringing some rain for us by the weekend,'' he said. ''It's got a hell of a long way to travel and it might change its mind about where it goes, but fingers crossed.''