DCSIMG

Searing heat Down Under, whiteout in North America

Sun worshippers in Melbourne, Victoria, cool off in a fountain  last year was the hottest on record. Picture: Getty

Sun worshippers in Melbourne, Victoria, cool off in a fountain  last year was the hottest on record. Picture: Getty

  • by MATT SIEGEL AND COLIN PACKHAM
 

A HEATWAVE is baking central and northern Australia, piling more misery on drought-hit cattle farmers who have been slaughtering livestock as the continent sweltered through the hottest year on record in 2013.

A HEATWAVE is baking central and northern Australia, piling more misery on drought-hit cattle farmers who have been slaughtering livestock as the continent sweltered through the hottest year on record in 2013.

Temperatures have soared in large parts of Australia’s key agricultural regions for most of the past week, with the mercury topping 48 degrees Celsius in the central west Queensland town of Birdsville.

The heatwave is moving east, prompting health warnings in some of the country’s biggest cities. Meanwhile, firefighters were battling bushfires.

However, it is in the Outback that soaring temperatures have had the most devastating impact, especially on cattle farmers in Queensland, which accounts for about 50 per cent of the national herd.

“Water supplies are fast diminishing and whatever feed supplies that were left are cooking off to the point where there won’t be any left,” said Charles Burke, a beef farmer and chief executive of Agforce, a Queensland cattle industry group.

Monsoon rains in Australia’s north failed last summer and the entire continent endured its hottest year since records began in 1910.

Average temperatures were 1.2 degrees Celsius above the long-term average of 21.8, breaking a record set in 2005.

The soaring temperatures have renewed focus on climate change policy in Australia under the new government.

While prime minister Tony Abbott has said he accepts the reality of climate change, he abolished the country’s climate change commission in September, and rejected any link that global warming was responsible for a series of bushfires across New South Wales in October.

“On the science perspective, which is the basis for taking action, you’re getting very, very mixed messages from this government,” Will Steffen, an adjunct professor at the Australian National University, said. “I think the first challenge needs to be clear and consistent messaging from this government that they understand the science, they accept the science, they accept the risk and they accept the lead to take vigorous and decisive action in getting emissions down.”

US weather: Nine dead as a winter storm hits

At least nine people have died as a winter storm hit the northeastern United States, bringing travel chaos as nearly two feet of snow fell in some areas.

By yesterday morning, about 2,200 flights had been cancelled nationwide, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware.com. Most were in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Washington.

Governors in New York and New Jersey declared states of emergency, urging residents to stay at home. Hundreds of schools were shut in Boston and New York, extending the holiday break for tens of thousands of students.

“This is nothing to be trifled with,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo said. “People should seriously consider staying in their homes.”

At least nine deaths were blamed on the storm. Icy roads caused traffic deaths in Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.

A pile of salt fell on a worker at a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania storage facility, killing him. Authorities have also reported that a woman with Alzheimer’s disease froze to death after she wandered away from her rural New York home.

Outreach teams were searching streets in New York City and Boston for homeless people at risk of freezing to death.

Some major roads in New York state were shut overnight, and some commuter trains around New York City were operating on a reduced schedule.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie ordered non-essential state workers to stay at home. State offices and courthouses were closed. State offices were also closed in Massachusetts.

The heavy weather began rolling in on Thursday, just a day after New York mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in to lead the nation’s largest city.

Mr De Blasio, who in 2010 criticised predecessor Michael Bloomberg for his handling of a post-Christmas storm, said 1,700 snowploughs and 450 salt spreaders had been sent out onto the streets.

“I feel great about the response,” Mr De Blasio said yesterday. “We are vigilant. We are not out of this yet.”

The snowstorm had worked its way east from the Midwest, where it dropped up to 17 inches of snow on parts of Chicago.

 

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