You probably heard about the arctic blast that turned much of North America into a Popsicle last week, but in Australia, where Christmas is a summer holiday, it was so hot this weekend that the asphalt melted on a stretch of highway.
Across large areas of Australia, temperatures hit life-threatening levels. Penrith, a suburb of Sydney, reached 47.3 degrees Celsius on Sunday, or just over 117 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the hottest day on record in Penrith, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales, and the hottest anywhere in the Sydney area since 1939, when a temperature of 47.8 degrees — 118 degrees Fahrenheit — set a record that still stands.
At 40.1 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, Melbourne, 550 miles southwest, was comfortable only by comparison.
Beaches in Sydney were so crowded, there was barely room to maneuver. Bushfires raged out of control near Melbourne, and on the Hume Highway, which links Sydney and Melbourne, a stretch of asphalt oozed apart in the heat, causing a major traffic jam.
The scorching heat was short-lived. By Monday, the temperature in Sydney had dropped to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and Melbourne was in the high 60s.
Summer temperatures in the coastal cities of eastern Australia are generally much lower than those in the country’s central deserts. In January, the average highs in Sydney and Melbourne are around 79 degrees, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.