The article Forgotten history: 50 degrees everywhere, right across Australia in the 1800s claims that there were regular recorded temperatures above 50°C across Australia in the 1800s:

Australians have been recording temperatures of over 50C since 1828, right across the country. In 1896 the heat was so bad for weeks that people fled on emergency trains to escape the inland heat. 

Is this true?


1 Answer 1


This is true, but misleading

Temperatures over 50 were routinely measured in Australia in the 19th century, but it was due to the fact that Australia hadn't modernized its weather technology until 1910, which is when "official" Australian heat records begin.

The pre-1910 data have not been “wiped from the record”. They are still available on the Bureau’s website, but are not included in the official record because they cannot be compared easily with modern data. http://theconversation.com/factcheck-was-the-1896-heatwave-wiped-from-the-record-33742


The year 1829 stands out as particularly warm. Although the temperature observations are to be treated with caution...Although the development of this dataset represents a significant advance in historical climatology in the Australasian region, there are unavoidable limitations that must be considered. Observer biases and remaining inhomogeneities mean that the observations are of poorer quality than modern meteorological records, and they should be interpreted with caution. Particular care must be taken with the temperature observations, which are especially sensitive to changes in exposure, and monthly rainfall totals, which have not been examined for undercount biases https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/gdj3.19

In short, don't take Australian temperature recordings prior to 1910 at face value.

  • 8
    @aroth: I think that deserves a separate question. It was simple to find second-hand evidence of the "1932 cataclysm" (a Mass mortality event for birds in Australia), but primary evidence - and showing the total was in the millions - might be harder to find.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 5, 2019 at 2:50
  • 6
    The other tricky part is that you'd want reliable primary evidence both that a mass mortality event had occurred and that the temperature was a main factor in cause of death. There are subtle differences between "died because of over heating", "died because of dehydration during a drought" and "died because of viral complications during heat wave".
    – Kaithar
    Feb 5, 2019 at 3:04
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    Can you explain what "weather technology" means in the context of the question? They had very bad thermometers? Why? Feb 5, 2019 at 5:52
  • 14
    The first account of the "Stevenson screen" which is now standardized for air temperature measurements is dated 1864, and it may have taken some time after that for them to become common in Australia. Any measurements with no control over direct radiation heating of the thermometer (either from the sun or the ground) are not of much value. A thermometer only measures the temperature of itself, not of what you want to measure! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevenson_screen
    – alephzero
    Feb 5, 2019 at 9:56
  • 3
    Some of this clarification from the comments should be included in the answer itself (not merely in the link), so that it's clear without having to visit another page that might not stay functional.
    – V2Blast
    Feb 5, 2019 at 21:22

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