Extreme weather that has forced thousands of Queensland residents to flee their homes should give people a wake-up call over climate change, a New Zealand scientist says.

A large low pressure system crossed the continent this week, causing storms in New South Wales and pushing a mass of warm air ahead of it.

This brought higher temperatures and stronger westerly winds across the Queensland border, lowering local humidity levels at a time dozens of fires were burning.

In Gracemere, south-west of Rockhampton, 8000 residents were ordered to leave as a catastrophic fire approached the town.


Kiwi climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger has been monitoring the situation, and considered it unprecedented – even for Queensland.

This was because normally moist south easterly trade winds were blowing off the Coral Sea.

"On Tuesday, Cooktown recorded 43.9C, beating the previous November high set 70 years ago by more than 2C," Salinger said.

Cairns had also broken its November heatwave record by five degrees with 43.6C – 5C above the former record.

It was even hotter on Wednesday with 44.4C, at Prosperine, and 44.4C at Rockhampton, which were all new records for coastal Queensland.

The Queensland current fires also were unprecedented in the history of the state, with firefighters being drawn from Victoria and New South Wales.

Salinger said there was a definite fingerprint of climate change.

Source / Australian Bureau of Meteorology
Source / Australian Bureau of Meteorology

"This heatwave commenced last week and is projected to go into the first week of December, when there'll be severe to extreme heatwave conditions across most of Queensland and central inland parts of Northern Territory," he said.


"Catastrophic heatwave conditions are now occurring in Queensland, the first time ever this rating has been achieved.

"As of Wednesday evening 138 fires were burning. Extremes like this have never been experienced before in the state."

Salinger noted that school students were taking the day off tomorrow to protest over climate action.

While he said sectors of Australia's government hadn't woken to the threat, the farming community was now recognising it, with droughts becoming hotter and drier.