Extended summer sends 'mixed messages' to Wollongong plants

Aloe there: Botanic Garden acting curator James Beattie surveys flowering Aloe succulents, which have been bamboozled by the long stretch of summer.
Aloe there: Botanic Garden acting curator James Beattie surveys flowering Aloe succulents, which have been bamboozled by the long stretch of summer.

The record for the hottest April day in the Illawarra has fallen for the second time this week, with the Albion Park weather station recording a new high of 34.8 degrees just after midday on Thursday.

At the Bellambi Point weather station, the top reading reached 32.1 degrees – just 0.1 below the record set on April 3, 2005.

The culmination of a long run of unseasonable weather, Thursday brought record highs to much of south-eastern Australia.

And higher than average temperatures are forecast to linger until at least next Wednesday.

Across the Illawarra, this extended summer is causing some unusual behaviour.

In Crown Street Mall, shoppers in board shorts and singlets are walking past displays of mid-season sales on woollies and winter coats without even a sideways glance.

The beaches are full of swimmers taking advantage of sea temperatures almost a degree warmer than average for this time of year.

No woollies: Fur collars and woolly jumpers are already on sale in Wollongong shops, but shoppers opted for singlets and shorts on Thursday.

No woollies: Fur collars and woolly jumpers are already on sale in Wollongong shops, but shoppers opted for singlets and shorts on Thursday.

And at Wollongong Botanic Garden, the plants, insects and bird life are getting mixed messages, as the summery heat combines with bone-dry ground and shorter days.

“Everything is still really in active growth, which is normally what happens in spring and summer,” the garden’s acting curator James Beattie said.

“There’s confusing mixed message of all kinds after a really dry summer: the day length is decreasing which affects plants, we’ve got warmer temperatures and there is less rain.”

“So they’re getting one message about what time of year it is, but everything else is out of whack.”

While gardeners have had to contend with making sure their plant collection doesn’t die out without rain, Mr Beattie said there was an upshot to the strange weather patterns.

“The garden is really looking spectacular, because it’s still in full growth,” he said.

“A lot of our horticultural staff have also noticed just the sheer amount of insects we’re getting in the garden, when they’d normally be on a downward spiral now.

“And that means we’re seeing a vast array of bird life – including unusual visitors like Firetail Finches and others that aren’t normally seen in the gardens.”

Meantime, the unusually warm autumn and dry summer has led the NSW Rural Fire Service to suspend all private hazard reduction and pile burning activities in the Illawarra until further notice.

Long summer: Temperatures were cooler on the coast, peaking at 32.1 degrees, providing perfect beach weather halfway through April. Pictures: Adam McLean.

Long summer: Temperatures were cooler on the coast, peaking at 32.1 degrees, providing perfect beach weather halfway through April. Pictures: Adam McLean.

“Little rainfall coupled with warm and potentially gusty winds over the comings days will elevate the risk of private burns escaping”, Illawarra District Manager Superintendent Greg Wardle said. The suspension does not include recreational fires in established fire places or cooking fires.