2013 turned out to be Australia’s hottest year on record. Fittingly, the calendar year both started and ended with intense heat waves. The most recent heat wave peaked between December 27, 2013, and January 4, 2014. It was much shorter than the one that began 2013, though it was more intense. Nearly 9 percent of Australia’s cities and towns experienced record-breaking temperatures between January 1–4, 2014.
The heat baked the earth, raising land surface temperatures (LSTs) that are monitored by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Dark red dominates this image, indicating temperatures that were significantly higher than average between December 27 and January 3, especially in Queensland and New South Wales. LSTs reflect how warm the ground would be to the touch, a measurement related to but not the same as air temperatures.
The final day included in the image, January 3, was the hottest day of the heatwave for most places, with about 10 percent of Queensland and 15 percent of New South Wales setting new heat records. The highest air temperature during the week was in Moomba, Queensland, which reached 49.3°Celsius (120.7°Fahrenheit) on January 2. Temperatures reached 48°C (118°F) or higher at 12 locations throughout Australia during the heatwave.
Australia was not the only Southern Hemisphere country dealing with unusually intense temperatures. Late December brought a two-week long heatwave to Argentina that led to power outages and water shortages. In the Northern Hemisphere, Europe and Asia enjoyed a stretch of warm winter temperatures, while North America went through a severe cold snap.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using data from the Level 1 and Atmospheres Active Distribution System (LAADS). Caption by Holli Riebeek.