WeatherWebb

Making the weather more accessible

Is it right to use climate change to sell products?

This week Debenhams used the fact that 2014 was the hottest year on record to advertise a kimono as shown below. Firstly, just because 2014 was the hottest year on record, does not mean it was the sunniest, in fact it was the fourth wettest, so the tweet is factually misleading. Secondly, is it right to promote your products based on climate change?

Debenhams

Debenhams tweet

2014 was officially the warmest year on record globally, and in the UK. The land and ocean average temperature for 2014 globally was 1.39ºC above the annual mean temperature. This figure is made up of an annual mean temperature on land of 2.45ºC and 0.99ºC in the ocean’s (NOAA 2015). This anomalous temperature has influenced many extreme weather events around the world; some of the most significant can be seen below. 2014, is another year where weather scenarios have increased the certainty that climate change is occurring. However, many of the weather events have lead to loss of life, damage to properties and billions of pounds worth of damage. Therefore does it seem right to advertise products based on climate change? Debenhams’ tweet could be read as “we don’t care that people are dying, climate change means it’s getting warmer so we can sell more summer clothes”. Although this is an extreme view, it does still have some validity.

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Significant Climate Anomalies and Events in 2014 (NOAA 2015)

In the UK, the mean temperature of 2014 was 9.9ºC. This is 1.1ºC above the long-term annual average based on observations from 1981-2010 (Met Office 2015). The spread of the temperatures across the UK can be seen below. Of the top 10 warmest years on record, 8 have occurred during the last 11 years. This indicates that climate change is affecting the UK’s climate and it is turning warmer. However, 2014 was also the fourth wettest year on record, rather contradictory to Debenhams’ tweet. Provisional figures show that a rainfall total of 1297.1mm was recorded in 2014. It also looks like the UK’s climate is turning wetter with 5 of the top 6 wettest years recorded within the last 15 years (Met Office 2015).

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Provisional temperature figures for 2014 (Met Office 2015)

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Provisional rainfall figures for 2014 (Met Office 2015)

It is very hard to deny climate change is occurring now, although there are still a few skeptics. In the long term, climate change is going to lead to a higher death rate as extreme temperatures and weather events put people in danger. Although it may be nice to have warmer conditions, climate change is really a destructive thing, therefore it seems strange to use it to advertise products.

 

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Stormy weather in the UK

Now I’ve finished a run of busy night shifts forecasting this weeks stormy weather, I thought I’d write a blog about it. We all remember the stormy winter we had last year, particularly the storms that developed in October 2013. These storms not only brought strong winds, but also heavy rain, which lead to destructive flooding in many areas, particularly the Somerset levels.

This winter has been unseasonably mild and although it has been unsettled with low pressure systems frequently affecting the UK, they haven’t been as destructive as last winter… until now. The low pressure system that is currently moving away north-eastwards towards Scandinavia has brought wind gusts in excess of 100mph to parts of Scotland, damaging infrastructure, buildings and causing the rail network to be suspended. The map below shows the track of the storm as it moved past the UK overnight. Due to it’s depth, the isobars were very compact, leading to the strong wind gusts in Scotland.

Synoptic maps to show development of the storm 8-9th January 2015 (MeteoGroup 2015)

Synoptic maps to show development of the storm 8-9th January 2015 (MeteoGroup 2015)

Here are some of the strongest wind gusts recorded:

  • 140mph Cairngorm – high site at 1237m
  • 113mph Stornoway – peak gust not in the mountains and joint strongest recorded at this site (MetOffice 2015). 113mph was recorded on 12th February 1962 as well
  • 110mph Loch Glascarnoch
  • 107mph Great Dun Fell
  • 102mph Glen Ogle
  • 97mph Altnaharra

The jet stream is very active at the moment, and is positioned right across the UK as illustrated by the map below. At the surface, the jet stream is about 5-7 miles wide with winds of up to 250mph at it’s strongest point (note, these are not the wind gusts recorded at the surface as suggested by some media sources). The jet stream is very active at the moment as there is a strong temperature gradient at the moment. Cold temperatures close to the North Pole are sinking southwards across Canada and warmer conditions are pushing northwards from Central Europe. This movement has lead to a temperature gradient of 20C as illustrated by the map below.

Map to show active jet stream (MeteoGroup 2015)

Map to show active jet stream (MeteoGroup 2015)

Map to show temperature gradient of 20C (Wetterzentrale 2015)

Map to show temperature gradient of 20C (Wetterzentrale 2015)

As the low pressure system, that has been passing by the UK last night and today, got caught up in the jet stream, it intensified rapidly, which lead to the tightening isobars. The next storm to affect the UK will begin to move towards the UK this evening, as illustrated by the last synoptic map in the first picture. Although this storm will not be as intense, it is likely to bring strong wind gusts to many parts of the UK, including southern England, where wind gusts are likely to exceed 50mph regularly, and possibly 60mph. Additionally, the associated front is expected to bring a fair amount of rain, and in north-western areas could lead to localised flooding. Above 300m in northern Scotland the rain may fall as snow possibly giving some accumulations. Once the rain has cleared, it will turn much colder and wintry showers are expected to move into north-western areas, this potentially falling as snow to sea level.

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Weather conditions when QZ8501 went missing

Sadly another plane has gone missing this weekend. Air Asia plane QZ8501 took off from Surabaya airport in Indonesia at 22:35 (GMT) on 27th December 2014 and was meant to land at Singapore airport at 00:30 (GMT) 28th December 2014. It went missing halfway into it’s journey at 23:24 (GMT) over the Java sea as illustrated in the map below. According to reports the pilot had asked to divert from it’s original course due to adverse weather and it is believed this may be the reason for the planes disappearance.

BBC map illustrating the flight path of QZ8501

BBC map illustrating the flight path of QZ8501

Indonesia and Singapore are positioned in the tropics as illustrated by the map below.  The tropics are positioned between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. In meteorological terms, the tropics are the areas where the sun is positioned directly above at least once each solar year. Additionally, the trade winds converge in the tropics creating the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The ITCZ moves northwards and southwards through the year and is responsible for heavy summer monsoons over Asia. This combination means that the tropical region is hot and moist all year round.

Map to illustrate the positioning of the tropics

Map to illustrate the positioning of the tropics

On 28th December 2014, when the QZ8501 went missing, there was a large amount of convergence across the area due to the hot conditions and moist air. This means that significant storms were developing. Locals in Indonesia and Singapore reported seeing billowing cumulonimbus clouds and heavy rain. Cumulus clouds develop when the sea or land is heated and warm air rises and then condenses in the atmosphere. These can then grow into cumulonimbus clouds by growing in height (up to 20km) due to the updrafts of water vapour and can further develop into supercell’s in the correct weather conditions. A supercell is a thunderstorm whereby the updraft rotates and these can be the most severe of all thunderstorm types. From looking at the EUMetSat‘s radar image below you can see that there was some very intense thunderstorms across the region bringing heavy rain, strong winds and lightning to the region. A picture showing lightning strikes detected in a storm close to where the plane went missing was put on twitter by @WeatherBug as illustrated below. The strong winds, heavy rain and lightning would have made flying conditions very difficult and could explain why the pilot asked to climb to 11,000m, to avoid the clouds.

Precipitation radar for SE Asia from EUMetSat

Rain amounts estimated based on cloud cover for SE Asia from EUMetSat

Image tweeted by @WeatherBug showing detected lightning strikes near the path of QZ8501 between 23:09 and 23:20 GMT

Image tweeted by @WeatherBug showing detected lightning strikes near the path of QZ8501 between 23:09 and 23:20 GMT

There are currently teams searching the Java sea near Belitung island by plane, helicopter and boat, and they are also likely to experience heavy thunderstorms and strong winds during the search. My thoughts are with the family’s and friends of those on the plane and I hope the plane is found soon.

 

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Think of the meteorologists, engineers and gritter drivers this Christmas

I recently came across an article on the Guardian website entitled: How many people in the UK work on Christmas day? I was pleased to see that the concept of people working over the Christmas period was being brought up, as I will be working during this time, but I was disappointed to see that the clergy, nurses and doctors got most the credit. Don’t get me wrong, I know they work extremely hard, but so do meteorologists, rail engineers and gritter drivers.

The weather changes constantly, especially in the UK, and that is why most weather companies operate 24/7. The weather conditions need to be constantly monitored as well as new models analysed. Over the Christmas period, I will be one of 12 forecasters working on Christmas day in my office. There will be 8 people in during the day, and then 4 overnight (including myself). To keep us all in the festive spirit, we’ve decorated the office and for my 5 night shifts, I’ve made sure I have a different Christmas jumper for each day.

Day 100

The office has been Christmasyfied to keep everyone in the festive spirit

The main job of the day shift is to analyse the latest weather models and write forecasts for our clients highlighting what hazards they may see in the next 36 hours. It’s then up to the night shift to monitor the weather and let the clients know if it will differ. However, it is not as cut and dry as that, so many of the roles overlap between day and night. For example, if the road surface temperature (RST) drops below zero, it is seen as hazard because ice or hoar frost may develop, and in parts of Scotland the RST might not rise above zero for a number of days. Additionally new weather models come in overnight and so these need to be analysed as well.

Why do we have to write these forecasts over Christmas? because our clients will be working as well. During this years Christmas period, many areas are likely to see RSTs drop below zero, and if the roads aren’t gritted, ice and hoar frost may form and there will be lots of accidents. Therefore, to prevent ice and hoar frost developing, your local councils or highways agencies will have people driving around gritting the roads and then monitoring the roads. Similarly, it looks like it will be very windy over the Christmas weekend, and this will have an impact on all the engineering work your train companies are planning on doing. They need to make sure they are not putting themselves or the public in danger by undertaking the engineering work so need to be updated on the weather conditions.

The Kent gritter drivers are ready to treat their roads over Christmas!

The Kent gritter drivers are ready to treat their roads over Christmas!

You may only see yellow lorries driving around or see disruption on the railway lines, but there is a lot of work that goes on to make sure these things are all done at the right time. So whilst you’re relaxing on Christmas day and Boxing day remember those of us that are working, often to make your life easier.

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The Northern Lights

I know it could be argued that this is not meteorological, but after getting to see the Northern Lights in Iceland last week, I thought I’d explain what they are and when’s best to see them.

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights is a natural display of lights in the sky. The light is emitted by atoms and molecules in the polar upper atmosphere at altitudes above 100 kilometres (Schneider, Root & Mastrandrea 2011). In layman’s terms, the solar wind, which travels at 300-1000 miles per second, hits the Earth’s magnetic field, which deflects the solar wind and causes it to spread out so that we see the reaction.

The solar wind is made up of millions of protons and electrons and depending on the chemical we see different colours. The most common colour is a green-white, which is emitted by atomic oxygen (O), but you can also see pinks, reds and blues which are emitted by molecular nitrogen (N), sometimes neutral, sometimes ionized.

If we did not have the Earth’s magnetic field the solar winds would kill us. The magnetic field works as a barrier, and many other planets do not have this so if for example we lived on Mercury the solar winds would kill us.

The best place for seeing the Northern Lights is between 10º and 20º, so in Iceland, northern Scandinavia, Alaska, northern Canada and northern Greenland. However, when there is a lot of activity it can be seen in other parts of central Europe such as the UK. The best weather forecast for seeing the Northern Lights is a clear night when there are no clouds, additionally, it is important to be in the countryside where there is no light pollution.

There is also a version close to the South Pole which is known as the Aurora Australis, this can be seen from Antarctica, South America, New Zealand and Australia.

Here’s a few of my favourite photos from Dan and my trip:

For reference, these are meant to be the best settings for capturing the Northern Lights:

  • Set to the camera to manual
  • Set the camera speed to ISO 800-1600
  •  You need a high exposure so +8 seconds is best, we used 15
  • Set a 2 second timer to reduce the shaking of the camera
  • Change the aperture to f/3,6
  • Remove any UV or polarising features

 

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The Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition

From UnpopularScience.co.uk 

Last night, one of our team, Sally Webb, got the chance to go to the Royal Society’s Black Tie Soirée at the Summer Science Exhibition. Here are her own thoughts on the evening and what she enjoyed.

When my Dad told me I could go to the Soirée with him, I was so excited. Not only did I get to dress up and enjoy the free food (which was fantastic), but I also got to meet some of the most influential scientists of our time. I spent ages looking at the website trying to decide what exhibits I wanted to go and see, but with 16 choices this was really difficult.

The event itself was held at the Royal Society, which is a fantastic building off the Mall, filled with photos and books all to do with science. Walking round, you notice the different scientists with their knighthoods, OBEs and CBEs round their necks. I met the famous YouTube sensationProfessor Martyn Poliakoff from the University of Nottingham who gave me a copy of the world’s smallest periodic table – engraved on his hair! When we sat down for dinner, I found myself sat next to Hermann Hauser and his family. At the time, I did not know exactly who he was, but I told my boyfriend (a mathematician) and he couldn’t believe it saying he was a legend. Whilst sat next to him, both he and his son calculated how many atoms were in a kilogram of silicon in their heads, something that would take me hours to do.

As for the exhibits, there are 16 different ones to attend and with 3 hours to get round them all there was no way this was going to happen, so we just went for the ones my Dad and I were most interested in. I learnt all about the Higgs boson and how next year they may find super symmetry, something which currently has not been found. We got to see ourselves portrayed onto a screen as dark matter illustrating how gravity curves. We visited the Pinch of Salt exhibit by UEA which shows you how they have created a seaglider using buoyancy which can take accurate measurements at different depths within the sea. There was an exhibit by NPL where I got to speak to Michael de Podesta who is trying to determine new methods of calibrating using air waves and most importantly the research how we are going to measure a kilogram in the future as the standard mass is decaying and losing weight.

The British Geological Survey had an exhibit about the ice sheet Virkisjökull in Iceland which is receding. I spoke to the photographer who said they only get to visit the ice sheet twice a year, but have sensors across it as well as a camera which takes a photo every day so they can create time-lapse video of the sheet receding. In addition to this they also have a camera which takes 3D images of the ice sheet so they can determine where it is melting most and hope to determine why.

The University of Cambridge had an exhibit about Electric Carbon, something I knew nothing about yesterday afternoon. They are creating carbon nanotube wires which can be used for power lines. In theory it could replace copper and aluminium in our everyday devices, making them much more light-weight and efficient. What makes this research different to any other in the area is that the nanotubes are able to conduct electricity and so could be used across the world in the future.

My personal favourite was the exhibit by UCL on Ice Worlds. It was fascinating to here that ice works like a rock on other planets and moons. The same way we have volcanoes, these worlds have ice versions. Instead of pumping lava into the atmosphere they pump a kind of slush puppy. There are also geysers which emit water vapour. What amazed me most however, being a meteorologist, is that some of them have weather, such as Triton, Neptunes largest moon. We have the ability to research the weather, atmosphere and geology on these worlds and then apply that knowledge to understand our own planet better.

The Summer Science Exhibition is on at the Royal Society for the next 3 days (until 7th July) and I strongly recommend it to anyone who has a free afternoon, hour or evening. Even if you just learn one new thing, it’s an experience you won’t have anywhere else.

 

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Unseasonable weather?

From UnpopularScience.co.uk

Across the world we’ve had plenty of “unseasonable weather” over the last few weeks and records are being broken globally. But what is the likelihood of these strange weather patterns becoming regular occurrences and no longer “unseasonable”?

In the UK, it’s clear that the weather has changed. It’s nearly 7 years since we last had the stereotypical British summer filled with hot sunshine, and the winter months appear to be becoming colder and more unsettled. For example, gritting drivers across the UK had to deal with twice as many “marginal” nights than a normal winter from October 2012 to April 2013. Met Office officials met recently and believe there is a change occurring over the Atlantic and this is causing this strange weather in the UK. This change has been associated with climate change and the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but is that all it’s down to?

In America, tornado season is currently in full swing as normal, but the intensity of some of the tornadoes, particularly over Okalahoma, have hit new levels causing mass destruction and the number of tornadoes appears to be rather low. In addition to this, a current heat wave across western areas could beat the all time record temperature of 56.7C (134F) which was set at Death Valley back in July 1913. Surely these changes in America are not down to the slight change over the Atlantic that is affecting the UK?

The unseasonable flooding over central Europe has lead to a lot of destruction; uprooting trees, damaging homes and destroying roads. As well as these heavy rains, most of the area has been affected by below average temperatures, with reports of strange weather making people feel depressed in France. At the moment there is still no sign of these temperatures rising up to or above the norm. This cooler and wetter weather is mainly due to the positioning of the Jet Stream, which allows additional low pressure systems to affect the areas. This could be linked to the change in the Atlantic, but nothing is definite.

In China, rainfall levels were over 20% above average in May and heavy rains have continued through June. In India the Monsoons have started and already caused devastation with hundreds of fatalities. Even though people are used to these wet events they appear to be occurring at a more devastating intensity.

So is it down to a slight change in the oceans or a bigger picture? Although, many scientists are trying to explain why, realistically it is still too early to tell. There may not be one specific reason as to why these unusual weather events are occurring at random times of the year. However, it does appear that climate change is affecting the world’s weather. This may be a normal phenomenon, but the impacts are thought to have been increased due to greenhouse gas emissions.

Power Lines

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Why hasn’t spring sprung yet?

From UnpopularScience.co.uk

After a weekend of heavy snow across much of the UK, everyone is asking, ‘is there going to be much let up from the cold?’ Well, at the moment it’s unlikely. The UK has been experiencing it’s coldest March since 1969 and is close to becoming the coldest month of the year so far (Philip Eden, 2013), a big comparison to last year when March was the 3rd warmest on record! Across much of Europe temperatures are at least 5 degrees below the seasonal average and across parts of Eastern Europe and western Russia, temperatures are up to 14 degrees below the norm. So what is going on?

There are a couple of reasons for this unseasonably cold March we have been experiencing and what is likely to be an unseasonably cold start to April too, but they are all interlinked. The jet stream is in the wrong position. Normally during spring, the jet stream begins to push northwards across the UK so that we are positioned south of it. However, at the moment it has remained positioned across southern Europe, just north of Spain and Italy (as illustrated by the bottom image). Due to the abnormal positioning of the jet stream the Greenland high pressure system has dominated Europe’s weather and climate.

The jet stream is currently positioned where the green and yellow meet. The Greenland high is illustrated by the H to the east of Greenland.

The jet stream is currently positioned where the green and yellow meet. The Greenland high is illustrated by the H to the east of Greenland.

The Greenland high pressure is always positioned close to Greenland and often just north of Iceland. It balances out with a second high pressure system across the Archipelago of the Azores, known as the Azores high. The balance between the two is known as the North Atlantic Oscillation Index (NAOI). If the Greenland high is dominating, then it is described as a negative NAOI and if the Azores high is it is a positive NAOI.

During the last few weeks the NAOI has been more negative as the high pressure across Greenland has become blocking. This has caused easterly winds to influence the UK. The winds come from the polar continental air mass from northern Europe and Russia, which is associated with cold temperatures and snow during the winter months. Since 2010 the UK has been dominated by a negative NAOI with only two short periods of a positive NAOI. This unusual behaviour has lead to the cooler and more disappointing summers over the last few years. So why is this?

There could be a number of reasons for the unusual movements of the jet stream and the strong negative NAOI. The most obvious, being climate change and the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, it could also be due to normal variation in the climate, there have been other occurrences similar to this in the past. At the moment it is too early to put a definite reason behind this unseasonably cold start to spring, but there will be lots of research into it as time progresses.

As for it getting any warmer in the new future, the models are still suggesting it will remain cold as the Greenland high continues to build. However, as of today there are some glimmers of hope of westerly winds beginning to push back into the UK in mid-April bringing some milder and more normal spring conditions to the UK.

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Heatwave turns Australia purple

From UnpopularScience.co.uk

ver the past week many parts of Australia have been influenced by unseasonably high temperatures. Although it is the peak of summer, temperatures have continued to soar above average. So high in fact that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM)  has had to add extra colours to their temperature scale in their colour map.

heatwave-in-australia

These high temperatures have been caused by a ridge of high pressure developing across the country bringing dry and settled conditions. In addition to this, the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) pattern is beginning to turn more towards La Nina bringing warmer sea temperatures to the area. ENSO is a climatic pattern that occurs in the tropical Pacific Ocean and alters the temperatures of the water. La Nina is known as the cool phase as the cool water in the eastern Pacific intensifies and the trade winds intensify  but these means that warmer seas are more likely around eastern Australia.

Tuesday (Monday night in the UK) has been the hottest day so far across New South Wales. Temperatures easily reached above 40°C in many areas, 15°C above the average temperature for the time of year. Temperatures in Sydney are getting very close to the hottest day on record in Sydney – a whopping 45.3°C set over 70 years ago in 1939. Temperatures in Sydney reached 41.8°C Sydney last night. In New South Wales have been particularly affected due to hot air from the desert being pushed east ahead of a cold frontal system. The highest temperature ever recorded in Australia was 53.1C in 1889 and the highest temperature recorded in the world is 58.0C in Libya in 1922.

BOM has stated that over the past five days, Australia has broken a record by having the most consecutive days with national daily average temperatures above 39°C. Individual high temperatures have already been broken in at least four of Australia’s seven states, with readings topping 48°C in a number of places.

syndey-opera-house

As reported by the media on Sunday, there have been widespread forest fires due to the heat in Tasmania and sadly a number of people died. There were also over 90 wildfires in New South Wales and many have continued to burn through Monday and Tuesday. Fires, including barbecues have been banned across New South Wales with worries of more fires starting. Sadly these high temperatures will cause a number of deaths, particularly in the elderly population and by those trapped in wildfires. The fire fighters are doing everything they can to try and contain the fires, but it is difficult when they cover such a vast area.

It is going to remain largely dry and sunny across Australia the next couple of days, but rain and storms will move into western areas towards the weekend where it will also turn cooler. It will remain very hot across central areas. In New South Wales temperatures will remain a few degrees above average for the next week, but it will not be as hot as recent days.

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Heat wave in Australia

Over the past week many parts of Australia have been influenced by unseasonably high temperatures. Although it is the peak of summer, temperatures have continued to sore above average. The high temperatures have been caused by a ridge of high pressure developing across the country bringing dry and settled conditions. In addition to this the ENSO pattern is beginning to turn more towards La Nina bringing warmer sea temperatures to the area.

 

Tuesday (Monday night in the UK) has been the hottest day so far across New South Wales. Temperatures easily reached above 40C in many areas, which was up to 15C above the average temperature for the time of year. The hottest day on record in Sydney was set January 14th 1939 of 45.3C, followed by 44.2C on January 1st 2006. On Tuesday 1400 EST (0300 GMT) the temperature in Sydney reached 41.8C. Overnight temperatures are not expected to drop below 20C in many areas. Sydney and New South Wales have been affected significantly on Tuesday due to hot air from the desert being pushed east ahead of a cold frontal system.

 

The Bureau of Meteorology has stated that over the past five days, Australia has broken a record by having the most consecutive days with national daily average temperatures above 39C. Individual high temperatures have already been broken in at least four of Australia’s seven states, with readings topping 48C in a number of places.

 

As reported by the media on Sunday, there have been widespread forest fires due to the heat in Tasmania and sadly a number of people died. There were also over 90 wildfires in New South Wales and many have continued to burn through Monday and Tuesday. Fires, including barbeques have been banned across New South Wales with worries of more fires starting. Sadly these high temperatures will cause a number of deaths, particularly in the elderly population and by those trapped in wildfires. The fire fighters are doing everything they can to try and contain the fires, but it is difficult when they cover such a vast area.

 

It is going to remain largely dry and sunny across Australia the next couple of days, but rain and storms will move into western areas towards the weekend where it will also turn cooler. It will remain very hot across central areas. In New South Wales temperatures will remain a few degrees above average for the next week, but it will not be as hot as recent days.

Sydney, Australia

Me in Sydney, Australia

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