Heatwaves in South Australia
Temperatures above 40°C are common in the north of South Australia in summer, but rarely for such a prolonged period as in the first half of January 1979.
The heatwave began on 31 December, and up until 15 January, maximum temperatures of at least 45°C were a daily occurrence in the north of the state, at places such as Marree and Oodnadatta. Further north, at Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, the temperature exceeded 40°C on 12 days, but did not go higher than 42°C, in part because of the town’s elevation (546m). The extreme heat reached further south on several days: at Port Augusta the mercury topped 44°C on 6 days, and at Broken Hill in NSW on 7 days. Adelaide did not have many days of extreme heat, but 42°C on 3 January was the highest temperature for 11 years.
Livestock and wild animals suffered. Kangaroos were found dead, and 100 cattle died on a train at Marree, despite the efforts of railway staff to offload them (Around 1979 it was usual for 10 to 20 animals to die during transport in hot weather). Hundreds of dead birds, including crows and parrots, were found. A goods train was derailed at Immarna on the trans-continental line, probably because the rails buckled in the heat.
A similar heatwave in January 1960 was not so sustained, because cool changes brought relief, but temperatures exceeded 45°C in the north of the State from 31 December to 3 January. On 2 January, Oodnadatta reached a state record – and arguably an Australian record – of 50.7°C. The minimum that day was 34.6°C. The temperature again reached the low 40s on 6-8 January, and on the 10th.
There were several deaths in the 1960 heat wave: five babies and eight adults died, including five found dead beside an outback road. Other victims were admitted to hospital with heat exhaustion, including 18 in Broken Hill. However hospitals would have provided little relief, because few were air-conditioned at that time.
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