The worst of the winter is likely to be over, with the outlook pointing to warmer and drier than normal weather over coming months, conditions that may set up another early fire season.
Most of the country’s south-east can expect mild conditions for the rest of July, setting up a possible record for Sydney while Melburnians can also expect some relief from the cold, said Brett Dutschke, senior meteorologist with Weatherzone.
“It looks like all of winter’s strong cold fronts could be confined to July,” Mr Dutschke said.
While more fronts will move through - with the next due across the south-east at the start of August - the worst of the cold is likely to have passed.
“[The cold] will come and go before it gets intense,” he said. “I think it’s the start of the warming trend now.”
A record warm autumn for many regions - including for Sydney - set up a mild start to winter.
Meanwhile, conditions in the Pacific remain primed for an El Nino, a weather event that typically leads to warmer and drier conditions across eastern Australia as rainfall patterns shift eastwards.
The latest three-monthly weather forecast released on Thursday indicates the chances remain near the top of the scale that the coming August-October period will be warmer than average for most of the eastern half of the country, particularly for overnight minimums.
Dry conditions are also likely to prevail, particularly for much of Victoria and NSW, which may be bad news for some farmers and add to fire risks.
The northern half and coastal regions of NSW, for instance, have so far received only about 20 per cent of their July average rainfall, said Agata Imielska, senior climatologist for the Bureau of Meteorology.
“The big fire risk areas are those that have had good rains in winter and then dry out when the tap turns off all of a sudden,” Mr Dutschke said.
Areas enjoying good rains in recent months include much of South Australia and Victoria, and the central-west and south-west of NSW, he said.
“If those areas dry out quickly, they could be pretty vulnerable come a hotter, windy time.”
Last July was a record warm month for Sydney following a very wet June. Several warm and dry months followed, setting up conditions for a very early start to the fire season in areas such as the Blue Mountains where hundreds of homes were lost in October.
“Burn-offs will probably start early this year,” Mr Dutschke said.
This month is likely to be one of the driest Julys for Sydney in decades, with just 4 millimetres of rain landing in the gauges at Observatory Hill and the prospect of only a few more millimetres at the most before the start of August.
Thursday’s maximum is forecast to reach 18 with tops of 19-21 stretching to at least Wednesday, about 3-5 degrees above the long-term average.
So far this month, Sydney has had 15 days of at least 18 degrees. On current forecasts, that tally should rise to at least 23, matching the record number set in July last year.
“Last July was the warmest on record for Sydney, winter temperatures were reminiscent of spring, not winter,” Ms Imielska said.
“After what was Australia's hottest year on record, it's quite staggering to have yet another spring-like winter,” Ms Imielska said.
“The warm temperatures are a product of clear warm days with little rainfall recorded across Sydney as well as the lack of cold outbreaks resulting in only five days dropping below the July average thus far,” she said.
Melbourne’s averages for this month will be closer to the long-run norm of 13.5 degrees for July but the next six days can expect 14-17 degrees, the bureau said.
“They’ll still notice it, and will take a layer [of clothing] off over the next week or two,” Mr Dutschke said.
The next front, when it comes, is unlikely to “be very long-lived or very cold”, he said. “It won’t take long to warm up again.”
The mild Australian conditions come as global temperatures set records for May and June, and matched the record high in April, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said this week.
The first half of 2014 was, with 2002, the equal-third warmest half-year worldwide, trailling only 1998 and 2010, NOAA said.
Models run by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, NOAA and other agencies continue to tip the likelihood of an El Nino forming later this year.
Such events typically see the Pacific become less of a heat sink, raising the chances that 2014 will beat the current record warm years set in 2005 and 2010.
The build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel burning and other human activities is also playing a role in priming conditions for record warmth, climatologists say.
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