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Australia on Fire: El Nino Fuels Record-Breaking Heatwave

The country faces a high risk of bushfires as temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius in some regions

by Victor Adetimilehin

Australia is experiencing a severe heatwave that has pushed temperatures to record highs and increased the threat of bushfires across the country.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) issued “extreme” heatwave alerts for parts of Western Australia and South Australia on Sunday, and “severe” warnings for areas of Queensland, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) attributed the heatwave to a combination of factors, including a lack of cloud cover, a high-pressure system over the continent, and the influence of the El Nino weather pattern, which typically brings hotter and drier conditions to Australia.


Scorching Temperatures

Some of the hottest places in Australia on Sunday were in the remote Pilbara and Gascoyne regions of Western Australia, where temperatures reached the high forties Celsius (up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit).

On Sunday, the Pilbara mining town of Paraburdoo recorded a maximum temperature of 48.4 degrees Celsius (119.1 degrees Fahrenheit), which is the highest temperature in Australia since 2022. The previous record of 50.7 degrees Celsius (123.3 degrees Fahrenheit) was set at Onslow Airport.

In the West Australian town of Meekatharra, Royal Mail Hotel manager Alex McWhirter said the heat was unbearable.

The 29-year-old English national stated that the sun was beating down from above and the hot ground was heating them from below, making it quite a challenge. “I’m not sure that I want to try and go to bed tonight in 50 degrees without an aircon.”

On the east coast, parts of Sydney also sweltered under temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, almost 10 degrees above the average January maximum.


Bushfire Risk

The extreme heat and dryness have raised the risk of bushfires in some parts of Australia, especially in the south and east, where vegetation is tinder-dry after a prolonged drought.

The BOM said the fire danger ratings were “very high” to “extreme” in several districts of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania on Sunday, and urged people to follow the advice of local authorities and emergency services.

Australia is no stranger to bushfires, but the 2019-2020 season was one of the worst in history, when blazes destroyed an area the size of Turkey, killed 33 people, 3 billion animals, and trillions of invertebrates.

The BOM said the current heatwave was not as widespread or prolonged as the one that preceded the 2019-2020 bushfires, but warned that the fire season was not over yet.


Climate Change Link

The burning of fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is driving climate change, which many scientists have linked to the increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves and bushfires in Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) reported that Australia’s average temperature has increased by approximately 1.4 degrees Celsius since 1910, and the country is projected to experience more hot days and heat waves in the future.

The BOM said the current El Nino, which started in late 2022, was likely to continue until the first half of 2024, bringing warmer and drier-than-average conditions to most of Australia.

However, the BOM also said there was a chance of above-average rainfall in some parts of the country in the coming months, which could ease the drought and fire risk.

The BOM urged Australians to stay hydrated, avoid strenuous activities, seek shade and air-conditioning during the heatwave, and check on their family, friends, and neighbors who may be vulnerable to the heat.

Source: Reuters 


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