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Australia sweltered through its hottest month on record in January and the summer of extremes continued with wildfires razing the drought-parched south and flooding in expanses of the tropical north.
February followed with “once-in-a-century” flooding that brought crocodiles onto the streets as homes, schools and airports were inundated in by monsoon rains in the northern state of Queensland.
Australia’s scorching start to 2019—in which the mean temperature across the country for the first time exceeded 86 degrees Fahrenheit—followed Australia’s third-hottest year on record. Only 2005 and 2013 were warmer than 2018, which ended with the hottest December on record.
Heat-stressed bats dropped dead from trees by the thousands in Victoria state and bitumen roads melted in New South Wales during heatwaves last month.
The South Australian capital Adelaide on January 24 recorded the hottest day ever for a major Australian city—a searing 115.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
On the same day, the South Australian town of Port Augusta, population 15,000, recorded 121.1 degrees Fahrenheit—the highest maximum anywhere in Australia last month.
Senior climatologist at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology Andrew Watkins described January’s heat as unprecedented. “We saw heatwave conditions affect large parts of the country through most of the month, with records broken for both duration and also individual daily extremes,” he said in a statement.
Rainfall was below-average for most of the country, but the monsoonal trough has brought flooding rains to northern Queensland state in the past week, leading to a disaster declaration around the city of Townsville.
Queensland’s flooded Daintree River reached a 118-year high this week.
While Australia’s tropical north experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season each year, the recent downpour has far exceeded typical levels. These have brought dangerous animals into suburban areas.
“Crocodiles may be seen crossing roads, and when flooding recedes, crocodiles can turn up in unusual places such as farm dams or waterholes,” Queensland’s Environmental Minister Leeanne Enoch said to BBC News.
“The vast bulk of the population will not have experienced this type of event in their lifetime,” State Disaster Coordinator Bob Gee told reporters, referring to the extraordinary flooding.
Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill described the torrential rain as a “one-in-100-year event” that had forced authorities to release water from the city dam. The water release would worsen flooding in low-lying suburbs, but would prevent the Ross River from breaking its banks.
The floods resulting from the incessant two-week rains may have killed hundreds of thousands of cattle after they were weakened by severe drought.
“We are expecting hundreds of thousands in terms of stock losses,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
“This will be heartbreaking to these communities that have been experiencing years of drought, only to see that turn into a torrential inundation which threatens now their very livelihoods in the complete other direction.”
This report contains information from The Associated Press.