SEVERE fire danger and a statewide fire ban will roll on into Wednesday after the Hunter sweated through its hottest day in almost two years on Tuesday.
Hunter firefighters kept a tense vigil as severe conditions, including gale-force westerly winds in some areas, ran into the region.
Resources were focused on finishing off existing fires with only a handful of new blazes, including small fires at Toronto, Bolton Point and Hexham, reported in the tinderbox conditions.
A raft of Hunter suburbs marked their hottest summer day so far this season, taking many within striking distance of record January days. Cooranbong, Williamtown, Tocal and Nobbys all exceeded their previous highs this summer while in most areas the mercury tipped over 40degrees.
Weatherwatch meteorologist David Sercombe rated Tuesday as the hottest Hunter day since February 3, 2011, which nudged just a few degrees hotter.
‘‘The record in the Hunter for maximum temperatures is the New Year’s Day 2006 event, where temperatures reached 43, 44, 45degrees,’’ Mr Sercombe said.
Altitude kept Murrundi Gap’s thermometer to just over 30 degrees while a protected seafront vista helped Nelson Bay maintain a region-low 29.5°C at 3pm.
That reading placed the Port Stephens hamlet almost 10 degrees cooler than Nobbys, which recorded a high of about 37.8°C.
The heat shut the doors on Hunter shops as the region retreated to air-conditioners and the coast but Mr Sercombe said coastal areas generally recorded higher temperatures than inland parts of the Hunter yesterday due to downslope winds.
‘‘These stronger north-westerly winds mix the air properly and bring down all the heat,’’ Mr Sercome said.
‘‘The hottest temperatures are right on the coast ... when the winds aren’t so strong we see the traditional pattern of the inland areas being warmer and the coast cooler.’’
Humming airconditioners and fans added pressure to the power grid, with power consumption falling just shy of record usage from February 2011. Demand across Ausgrid’s Hunter network was about 1060megawatts at 4pm compared to 1165megawatts on February 3, 2011.
‘‘Today’s demand has been on the same tangent ... but it’s been tracking at about 100megawatts below all day,’’ an Ausgrid spokesman said on Monday.
Statewide demand peaked at 13,000megawatts at 4pm, coinciding with a wholesale megawatt hour price of $120.
Stifling conditions were also expected during most of last night, with forecasts of mid- to high-20degree temperatures until an early morning southerly change today. Mr Sercombe said the change would deliver some relief for several days until another burst of heat arrived on Friday.
For now, one of the country’s longest standing records has remained unchallenged – the 50.7 degrees all-time high measured at Oodnadatta Airport on January 2, 1960.
Even that peak, though, is under threat in coming days.
“We’re setting up to have a go at that record,” Karl Braganza, the Bureau of Meteorology’s manager of climate monitoring, said.
Even if the Oodnadatta record stands, many towns are sweltering in remarkable conditions.
Birdsville in central western Queensland has had a week of maximums of 45 degrees and is on course to make it a fortnight of such extremes – the longest in the 57 years of records for the town, Brett Dutschke, senior meteorologist with Weatherzone, said.
Bourke in north-western NSW has averaged 42.5 degree maximums over the past week and is also looking at another week of such scorching temperatures. If achieved, that would be the longest run of such weather since 1939, he said.
Deserted car park registers regional high
THE hottest place in the Hunter-Central Coast regions yesterday wasn’t content with a Bureau of Meteorology highest reading of 41.5degrees at 2.50pm.
In Gosford about half an hour later, the council car park sign declared a searing 43degrees – and no one was around to dispute that.
Williamtown challenged Gosford for the highest official Hunter-Central Coast temperature of the day but fell 0.4degrees short with a 41.1-degree reading at 3.30pm.
At the height of the heatwave the streets of Gosford – even the air-conditioned library and shopping centre – were virtually empty.