Page last updated at 05:11 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 06:11 UK

Australia's warm winter a record

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Two aboriginal girls walk across a foot bridge above the dry Todd River on August 24, 2009 in Alice Springs
Rivers are dry in some areas, and people have been enjoying unusually hot days

Australia has experienced its warmest August on record amid soaring winter temperatures.

Climatologists have blamed both the effects of climate change and natural variability.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology says that August was a "most extraordinary month" with mean temperatures 2.47C above the long-term average.

August in Australia culminated in a record-breaking heat-wave across much of the continent.

In the Queensland town of Bedourie the temperature reached 38.5C.

Elsewhere, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have had their warmest winters on record.

We needed rain most probably a fortnight ago for our crops to realise their full potential and every day it doesn't rain that will fall quite dramatically
John Ridley
New South Wales farmer

Blair Trewin, from the National Climate Centre, says the past month has brought unprecedented conditions.

"Early last week we saw a number of locations in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland break their August record-high temperatures by four or five degrees. And to break records by that sort of margin is something which is extremely rare," said Mr Trewin.

Scientists believe that such unseasonal temperatures are the result of global warming and of the climate's natural variability.

There are warnings that spring in this part of the southern hemisphere is likely to bring more hot weather, exacerbating a long-standing drought.

John Ridley, a grain farmer in New South Wales, is a worried man.

"We needed rain yesterday, right. We needed rain most probably a fortnight ago for our crops to realise their full potential, but most probably been 30% of our yield potential gone and every day it doesn't rain that will fall quite dramatically from there," said Mr Ridley.

The warm, dry conditions have also prompted the authorities to warn that Australia's annual bushfire season is again likely to be severe.

Already serious outbreaks have flared to the north and south of Sydney, the country's most populous city.

Graph showing temperatures of Australian winters since 1950

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