FEBRUARY 11 2017 – 7:52PM
Stephen Jeffery, Claudia Long
Canberrans sweltered through temperatures in the low 40s on Friday and Saturday with some cooler relief in sight as rain was forecast on Sunday.
The Bureau of Meteorology forecast a 60 per cent chance of rain to round out a stifling weekend, with a relatively balmy high of 32 degrees.
The slight relief will end two days of maximum temperatures above 40 degrees, the third time such a string has happened in Canberra since records began.
Canberra Airport’s weather station recorded a 41.1 degree peak at 2pm on Saturday, up from the 40.4 maximum on Friday.
That was not enough to beat the 42.2 degrees on Canberra’s hottest recorded day on February 1, 1968.
Across the border, NSW faced the “worst possible fire conditions” in its history with a “catastrophic” warning in place across large slabs of the state after a heatwave smashed temperature records on Saturday.
Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the situation was as “bad as it gets” and warned it was set to get worse on Sunday when winds are expected to sweep through scorched parts of mid to northern NSW.
“To put it simply [the conditions] are off the old scale,” he said. “It is without precedent in NSW”.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said “catastrophic” fire ratings had been issued only once before in NSW – in 2013 – since national standardised ratings were introduced in 2009. Sunday’s catastrophic fire rating will stretch from Dubbo to Coonabarabran to Port Stephens, affecting the Central Ranges, North Western NSW and the Greater Hunter.
“This is an area three to five times larger than January 2013,” he said, when more than 140 fires were burnt across the state.
“[Any fire] will consume whatever is in its path.”
On Saturday afternoon, the RFS said 49 bushfires or grassfires were already burning across NSW, 17 of which were not contained but no loss of life or property had been recorded.
In the ACT, firefighters tended to at least two grass fires on Saturday, and a fiery car crash in the Parkes Way tunnel, all of which were extinguished quickly.
A total fire ban across the territory will remain in place until 11.59pm on Sunday.
Conditions are expected to ease from Monday to Wednesday.
Power problems plagued the capital on Saturday, with outages in parts of Monash, Wanniassa and Gungahlin. Residents have been asked to continue keeping their power usage to a minimum.
There was good news for bookworms, however, as Belconnen Library fixed the air conditioning problem that forced its closure on Friday afternoon. The library will open as usual on Sunday.
The forecast temperature drop will come as a relief to the city’s wildlife as well. At Tidbinbilla, rangers cooled off the native inhabitants with buckets of water.
National Zoo and Aquarium operations manager Renee Osterloh said their animal handlers provided a range of icy treats in the hot weather.
She said most of the animals slowed down and sought cool places to conserve energy and rest during hot summer days.
“We’ve got bloodsicles, fishicles and fruitsicles,” she said.
Temperatures are expected to rise again before the weekend, however, with forecast highs of 34 degrees on both Thursday and Friday.
– with Eryk Bagshaw, Megan Levy, Peter Hannam
Source : Canberra Times