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Australians Sweat in Record-Breaking Winter

Australia has experienced its warmest August on record, as winter temperatures soared. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology says that August was a "most extraordinary month" with mean temperatures almost 2.5 degrees above the long-term average.

August in Australia culminated in a record-breaking heat-wave across much of the continent.

In the Queensland town of Bedourie the temperature reached 38.5 degrees. New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have had their warmest winters on record.

Blair Trewin from the National Climate Center says the past month brought unprecedented weather.

"Early last week we saw a number of locations in northern NSW [New South Wales] and southern Queensland break their August record-high temperatures by four or five degrees," Trewin said. "And to break records by that sort of margin is something which is extremely rare."

Scientists think that such unseasonal temperatures are the result of both global warming and natural climate variability.

There are warnings that spring in this part of the southern hemisphere is likely to bring more hot weather, exacerbating a long drought.

Parts of Australia have seen below-average rainfall for several years and the outlook for many parched communities is not good.

John Ridley, a grain farmer in New South Wales, says his crop could fail if the rains do not come soon.

"We needed rain yesterday, right," Ridley said. "We needed rain most probably a fortnight ago for our crops to realize their full potential but most probably been 30 percent of our yield potential gone and every day it doesn't rain that will fall quite dramatically from there."

Australia is a major food exporter, and if drought dramatically cuts yields, that could cause global prices for grain, meat and other foods to rise.

The warm, dry conditions have prompted the authorities to warn that Australia's annual bushfire season is again likely to be severe.

Already serious fires have flared near Sydney, the country's most populous city.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand had its warmest August since temperatures were first recorded 155 years ago.