EXPLAINED: Why this heatwave could go down in history

THE extreme conditions sweeping through Ipswich and the south east this weekend are only a taste of what residents in western Queensland have been going through for the past few weeks.

Each summer two or three heatwaves sweep through the state as a normal feature of summer, however, this particular hot spell has been going on since mid-January.

In Ipswich, temperatures are expected to hit 43 degrees on Sunday, surpassing the historical record of 42.6 degrees set in February 1952.

One Queensland record has already fallen during the prolonged heatwave.

If more tumble this weekend, which the Bureau of Meteorology says is possible, the heatwave will definitely be remembered as a "significant event" - possibly one of the most extreme since records began - although the BoM says it's too early to judge.

A heatwave is a period of three or more days when the day and night time are significantly above the averages for that time of year, BoM's Rick Threlfall explains.

Mr Threlfall says a 'heatwave' is caused by a static weather pattern, where hot air builds up over a long period of time without a cooler system moving through to push the hot air mass around.

>>FLASHBACK: 1940s heatwave killed 50K chickens, 80 people

>>Ipswich in for hotter, drier three months

For the past few weeks an area of high pressure has been stagnant across Queensland's interior uninterrupted, allowing the heat to continue building up.

While heatwaves are a normal part of summer time in Australia, Mr Threlfall says this year has been particularly hot.

OUTLOOK: Ipswich in for a hotter and drier than average summer.
OUTLOOK: Ipswich in for a hotter and drier than average summer.

"This January and February we've seen particularly long periods of well above average temperatures across Queensland, particularly in the southern interior," Mr Threlfall says.

"This weekend that hot air mass will be dragged across the state by a wind just above the surface which will pull that hot air into the south east."

This particular heatwave is complicated and long-lasting.

In St George residents have suffered through 34 days above 35 degrees.

In Birdsville there has been 41 consecutive days with temperatures above 37 degrees and a scorching 46.2 degree day on February 3, toppled the town's 1986 of 45.9 degrees.

"If more records are broken over the weekend it could be quite a significant event," Mr Threlfall says.

He says with March expected to be hotter than usual, it's also possible this won't be the last heatwave of the summer, although January and February are generally the warmest months. 


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