It is difficult to imagine more hellish fire conditions than those observed in Victoria state's capital, Melbourne, on Saturday (February 7). The temperature soared to 115°F (46.4°C), the hottest ever recorded in the city, besting the previous record of 114°F (45.6°C) set on January 13, 1939. Humidities as low as 4% and sustained north winds that reached 43 mph, gusting to 51 mph, accompanied the furnace-like heat. The dry winds were easily able to fan fires in the parched vegetation. Severe drought conditions reign in Southeast Australia, where some regions--including the city of Melbourne--have experienced their worst drought on record over the past eight years.
More than 170 people have died in the fires so far. The weather events that allowed the conflagrations to flourish - including drought and high temperatures - are consistent with those predicted by most climate models that anticipate significant global warming.