Australia's highest recorded temperature is 50.7C, set in January 1960 in South Australia. The record for the hottest average day across the nation was set on Monday, at 40.3C, exceeding a 40-year-old record. "What makes this event quite exceptional is how widespread and intense it's been," said Aaron Coutts-Smith, the weather bureau's climate services manager. "We have been breaking records across all states and territories in Australia over the course of the event so far." Wildfires are raging across New South Wales and Tasmania.

Australia's prime minister Julia Gillard said: "Whilst you would not put any one event down to climate change, weather doesn't work like that, we do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions."

She is right of course to be cautious about attributing individual events to global warming, but it is equally clear that new colours will need to be added to scales across the world for heatwaves and other extreme weather events.

We already know that climate change is loading the weather dice. Scientists have shown that the European heatwave of 2003, that caused over 40,000 premature deaths, was made at least twice as likely by climate change. The Russian heatwave of 2010, that killed 50,000 and wiped out $15bn of crops, was made three times as likely by global warming and led to the warmest European summer for 500 years.