That was then: snow on Bettington Road, Blackheath on October 12 last year. Photo: Deb Wells
This is now: charred trees on Bettington Road after back burning on Wednesday. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
It really has been an October like no other for residents around Sydney.
As the mercury climbed past 32 degrees in late morning on Wednesday, October notched its fifth day of such heat for the Bureau of Meteorology’s site at Observatory Hill, matching a record set way back in 1926.
Reaching the forecast maximum of 35 degrees would also see the month’s average maximum sail past the previous record set in 1988 of 26.2 degrees. Sydney’s top so far on Wednesday is 33.6 degrees.
That 1988 October record was more than a degree hotter than the previous nearest totals in records going back 154 years.
But unlike this year, October 1988 came after a very wet September when 141.8 millimetres landed on the city, compared with just 35.8 millimetres last month – mostly dumped in a single day.
October 1988 was also followed by a very wet November with almost 175 millimetres of rain recorded. By contrast, the Bureau of Meteorology’s outlook for the next three months is for slightly lower-than-average rain for the Sydney area.
There’s also a strong likelihood of above-average temperatures stretching well into summer.
But for now forecasters aren’t expecting a record-setting sixth day of 32-plus heat this month.
Still, it’s a long way from 12 months ago.
This time last year a thick blanket of snow covered the bush off Bettington Road at Blackheath. The street is now filled with charred trees and smouldering bush as far as the eye can see.
Morgan and Deb Wells sat in their lounge room on Wednesday flicking through the photos of their snow-filled street as the threat of fire loomed.
“On October 12 last year we had snow,” said resident Tony Morgan said. “Just goes to show how variable the weather is.”
Neighbour Carla Billinghurst could not believe the difference in the weather.
“We were making snow men -there was that much.”
It’s not just Blackheath residents noticing unusual weather patterns, in particular this year’s unseasonal warmth.
As Sean Carson, a senior meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology notes, it’s a national story.
“It’s been quite unprecedented, and not just for (the Sydney region) but for most of Australia,” Mr Carson said. “Australia is well on track to set a hottest (annual) record for the year 2013.”
Still, few places in Australia can match Sydney’s exceptional 2013. July and September have already set records for the hottest average maximums and August only just missed out. The winter was the mildest recorded.
And along with the heat, it’s been abnormally dry – as fire authorities have been warning for months. Sydney’s rain gauge collected 83.2 millimetres in the July-September period, – or a third of the average for the period. The 13 mm recorded so far this month at Observatory Hill place this period among the driest 10 per cent of years, said bureau climatologist Acacia Pepler.
Nearby regions have fared even worse. Before the overnight falls, Richmond had registered just 0.2mm so far in October, compared with a long-term average of 62mm for the month.
Katoomba, not far from the fire zone in the Blue Mountains, had had just 0.8 mm of rain so far this month up until Tuesday, compared with 92mm in a typical October.
Unfortunately, the bureau expects no rain of note to arrive in Sydney or the region for at least the forecast period stretching out to Tuesday. Temperatures, though, should back off but remain above the long-term average of 22.1 degrees for the city.
This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.