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Dome of heat: Australian weather bureau adds new colors to its map


Sunrise swimmers take to Bronte Pool in Bronte Beach to beat the heat as temperatures are expected to reach record highs today on January 8, 2013 in Sydney, Australia.


Marianna Massey

Australia is expecting a record average maximum temperature this week, with at least six of the first seven days of 2013 among the top 20 hottest days in the past century.

According to the Fairfax media, a huge "dome of heat" is covering the continent, breaking temperature records and setting the scene for dangerous fire conditions across the country.

Temperatures reached almost 48 degrees Celsius (118.4 Fahrenheit) on Monday at the Oodnadatta airport in South Australia, and 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday in Sydney.

They were so hot in some parts, that according to Fairfax the Bureau of Meteorology's interactive weather forecasting chart added new colors — deep purple and pink — to its temperature range, which had been capped at 50 degrees Celsius. The scale now extends to 54 degrees.

Meanwhile, the average across the country was tipped to break the previous record of 40.17 degrees Celsius in 1976, according to the Murdoch press.

Karl Braganza of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology told Fairfax:

"It's likely to just beat it. It's just an extensive dome of heat over the continent."

Bureau modeling estimated that temperatures were expected to hit a new national record both Monday and Tuesday.

Bureau figures for Sunday showed the national temperature was 39.71 degrees Celsius, and that it had stayed above 39 degrees Celsius for five days in a row.

The heat has unleashed extensive bushfires in the southern island state of Tasmania — where 100 people remained unaccounted for on Monday — and in New South Wales, where 90 fires were burning, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service.

More from GlobalPost: Australian PM Julia Gillard visits wildfire-hit Tasmania (VIDEO)

Meanwhile, John Nairn, South Australia's acting regional director for the Bureau of Meteorology, told the Australian Science Media Centre that things could get worse:

"The current heatwave is unusual due to its extent, with more than 70 per cent of the continent currently experiencing heatwave conditions.

Jason Sharples, an environmental and mathematical scientist at University of NSW, wrote in The Conversation that heatwaves like the one sweeping Australia today would become more common as the globe warmed.

Record high temperatures already outpaced record lows by a ratio of three to one, he wrote.