And perhaps it was. But look at the temperatures reported in newspapers across the country during the month of January in 1896 when people were going mad with axes, dropping dead in coaches and railway stations and birds were falling lifeless from the trees? Emergency trains were ferrying people from the country to the mountains. Panic stricken people fled the outback on special trains and the death toll was in the hundreds.
Fifty years later scientists would publish papers talking about how Australian summers had cooled since then.
How does the BOM know for sure that it was not hotter on any one of these days? Perhaps they don’t. Wouldn’t it be more honest of the BOM to mention that? It’s not like billions of dollars depends upon it…
The heatwave started in the West on Jan 1st and travelled eastwards, as most heatwaves do. The hottest day was possibly Jan 23 or 24 in 1896 which is when most of the Eastern States maximum temperatures shown above were recorded. And there are hints that this was both widespread and long — some of these towns recorded three long weeks of ultra high temperatures close to and over 110F (43.3C) like Nannine in WA (near Meekatharra) and Cunnamulla in Qld. Both reported peaks as high as 120F (48.8C). In Bourke temperatures were above 102F (38.9C) for 24 days in a row.
The BOM will say things were not entirely standardized or approved back then. But why would they care? Many of the BOM’s current sites fail their own standards: thermometers may sit for 30 years over bitumen, or right next to incinerators. They plough around sites, move them, build walls next to them and forget, even next to their own offices. The BOM accept one-second records from new electronic gizmo’s in small screens, and adjust old temperatures down by as much as two whole degrees. Sometimes modern BOM sites need mysterious calendar monthly corrections, or get corrected by thermometers across the Bass Strait, and sometimes they are incredibly detailed but repeat robotically year after year. Remember those temperature maps of our deserts in WWI? There are sites where there are no thermometers which record exactly the same temperatures as they did the year before (and the year after). Just “made up”? The hottest day ever recorded was probably calculated with maps like that.
The BOM can hardly be precious about scientific standards 130 years ago when they have so few themselves today.
And let’s not forget that in 1896 thermometers were nearly a 200 year old technology*. There was not much in the way of urban heat island effects – no airports, no five lane super highways, small populations, and some of these temperatures come from trained expert observatories. And let’s not forget either, as we just discovered, that there’s been no change in Very Hot Days in Australia since World War I (at least until the BOM adjusted them).
Here are the links to the hot days that were recorded but don’t exist
History down the memory hole: Links go to the newspaper article of the day
- Geraldton W.A. Wednesday, 1 Jan 1896 – 114° F “at Geraldton observatory“.
- Geraldton W.A. Thursday, 2 Jan – 115° F “A child succumbs to the heat. ” at “ Northampton, where the thermometer ranged even higher than at Geraldton.”
- Geraldton W.A. Friday, 3 Jan – 125° F most papers, 115° F in some (possibly a date error as it matches the previous day).
- Perth W.A. 3 Jan – 112° F ” Five deaths have been reported in the city on account of the great heat.”
- Mullewa W.A. 3 Jan – 121° F “The town has been enveloped in clouds of dust.”and “crowds of people have bad to sleep out of doors. Water is very scarce.”
- Carnarvon W.A. 3 Jan – 121° F Brick House station “It is farther reported that the mercury has been up as high as 125 in the shade there.”
- Pinjarrah W.A. 3 Jan – 114° F followed by a minimum of 97° F.
- Southern Cross W.A. Week ending 5 Jan – ”averaged 115deg.” “It has often been as high as 122deg.” Mr Mkay died in his office chair of heat apoplexy.
- Cue W.A. Sunday, 5 Jan – ”Three weeks of uninterrupted excesive heat“ ”each day exceeded 105“ ”on two occasions reaching 118.“
- Wilcannia N.S.W. Monday, 6 Jan – 117° F “Wyalong follows close with 114°. Then come Nowra and Corowa with 112.”
- Isisford Qld. 6 Jan – 112° F ” The Government Astronomer states that the high temperature has been caused by a heat wave which has come across the continent from Port Darwin,“.
- Bourke N.S.W. 6 Jan – ”The fact is that out of 93 weather telegrams sent in, 64 gave temperatures ranging from 100° at Cooma, Tabulam, Tenterfield, and a few other places, up to 118° in the shade recorded at Brewarrina and at Bourke. There were 22 stations which reported temperatures ranging from 110° to 118° inclusive.“
- Canowindra N.S.W. 6 Jan – 114° F “Reaching the highest point on record“.
- Farina S.A. 6 Jan – 113.5° F “the place occupied by the thermometer being a shadebox such as is used at the Adelaide Observatory.“
- Ungarie N.S.W 6 Jan – 125° F “rural districts do not always recognise the nice distinctions between true shade and other shade.”
- Farina S.A. Thursday, 9 Jan – 112.3° F
- Quirindi N.S.W. Monday, 13 Jan – 120° F. Out of 54 temperatures shown on that list only one does not meet the 95° F (35° C) heatwave threshold.
- Bulli N.S.W. 13 Jan – 115° F “This has been, the hottest day known“.
- Kiama N.S.W. 13 Jan – 117° F ” A Scorcher Everywhere. Death and Distress.“
- Parramatta N.S.W. 13 Jan – 111 ° F “Fruit Broiled on the Trees.” “Birds and Animals Drop Dead.”Camden N.S.W. Tuesday, 14 Jan – 123°F ”Great Heat Wave ” “LIST OF CASUALTIES.”
- Araluen N.S.W. Friday, 17 Jan – 110° F “It was thought that the heat had passed, but it was back again to-day“
- Brewarrina N.S.W 17 Jan – 122° F “125 deaths attributable to heat apoplexy” (Sydney).
- West Wyalong N.S.W 17 Jan – 114° F “The thermometer at the post office“.
- Nannine W.A. Saturday, Jan 18 – ”After about three weeks of most oppressive heat, with the thermometer frequently registering 120deg. in the shade, the weather has broken.”
- Farina S.A. Tuesday, Jan 21 – 112.3° F “Old residents say this is the hottest summer they have ever experienced.”
- Broken Hill N.S.W. Wednesday, Jan 22 – 113½° F ”Two horses dropped dead in the street from the effects of the heat.“
- Farina S.A. 22 Jan – 113° F “The temperature of our police cell was 148° several times.”
- Charleville or Cunnamulla QLD. 22 Jan – 120.5 ° F (116 °F official ) “The average daily temperature from the 1st instant exceeded 114 degrees.” 25 days!!
- Olary S.A. Thursday, 23 Jan – 116° F “and dust flying in clouds during the afternoon.”
- Adelaide S.A. 23 Jan – 111° F “Herbert Crown, an ostler at the Langham Hotel, fell down in King William-street this afternoon with sunstroke.”
- Swan Hill Vic 23 Jan – 116° F “To-day, it is again exceedingly oppressive”.
- Farina S.A. 23 Jan – 114.3° F “Five deaths have occurred in the town and one outside“.
- Mildura Vic 23 Jan – 120° F “PHENOMENAL HEAT IN VICTORIA.“
- Broken Hill 23 Jan – 115° F “Dr Enill took the temperature of the body an hour and a hall after death, and found that it was 109¾ .”
- Halbury S.A. 23 Jan – 118° F “Many children are unwell, and it will go hard with them unless a change soon, comes.”.
- Rapanyup Vic 23 Jan – 113° F “To-day it is again exceedingly oppressive“.
- Natimuk Vic 23 Jan – 115° F ”Telegrams from the country districts show that the heat was general throughout the colony.”(Victoria).
- Bega N.S.W. 23 Jan – 113° F “The minimum heat during last night was 73 . To-day the heat was terrific In the true shade the reading was 113 at 2pm“.
- Geelong Vic 23 Jan – 110° F ” Largely due to a burning north-west wind.“
- Hergott Springs S.A. 23 Jan “On three different days it showed 118° and three times 116°, the average for the last month having been 113°F. “
- Grenfell and Ivanhoe N.S.W. 23 Jan – 122 ° F “At Ivanhoe the heat was so intense that the mail horses fell dead on the road.”
- Charleville / Cunnamulla QLD. Friday, 24 Jan – 126/5° F “The official readings at the Post Office are lower; but the instruments used are placed in a thickly-planted garden which has been heavily irrigated during the last week,” So at which town was this garden and non stevenson screen recording? The clue is in the name “Grosvenor” here.
- Cunnamulla QLD 24 Jan – ” The official record showed a reading on Tuesday of 111 degs. in the shade, on Wednesday 116 degs., and to-day 117 degs. On Wednesday at midnight, the high temperature of 99 degs. was recorded.”
- Isisford QLD 24 Jan – “The thermometer on Monday rose to 114 degs., on Tuesday to 112 degs., on “Wednesday 115 degs., and to-day 118 degs. The country is very bare and the water is giving out fast.”
- Wilcannia N.S.W 24 Jan – 123° F “not a breath of wind was stirring during the night”.
- Hillston N.S.W. 24 Jan- 115° F “Anything under 110 is now beginning to be looked upon as contemptibly cool.”
- Wilcannia N.S.W. Saturday, 25 Jan – 120° F “The thermometer fell 50deg. at Wilcannia, but a death from sunstroke occurred there yesterday.”
Plus125°F at Middle camp station Netely (Perhaps 160 kilometres south-east of Broken Hill).129°F at Gundabooka Station near Bourke. (or try here).125°F at Nelyambo station (Near Nyngan?).121°F at Namagee N.S.W. “There is no appearance of a change“.125°F at White Cliffs.124°F at New Angeldool, Jan 27.124°F at Mossgiel (Where is that?).
There are even more extreme examples listed in the original 1896 post, like Berlino 130F, which ““hangs on a stone house with a thickly thatched verandah facing West” … “never reached by the sun“. Instead, these seemed like the more reliable estimates.