Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Australian Fires Continue Despite Some Rain

Australia's fire season, which runs in a similar fashion as California's in terms of occurring primarily in their summer into early autumn, is starting early this year due to a very dry September and October. You've seen some of the reports of fires across the news, with parts of New South Wales getting the most mention due to the size of the fires reported down there.

Rainfall percentages month-to-date in Australia. Much of New South Wales & Victoria are below average. Source: Australia Bureau of Meteorology.
The southern half of Australia is its wettest in their winter and early spring, which they are exiting out of now as they warm and we cool up here. However, much of New South Wales and Victoria (the states in their southeast that contain their largest cities and most population overall) have had very little rainfall over the past couple of months. This, combined with above average temperatures and occasional flare ups of wind, have set the stage for fires to break out earlier than usual this year.  In fact, over 60 fires were burning in New South Wales as of this morning.  Three fires that are flaring in New South Wales, in particular, had officials concerned of a possibility of them merging together into one larger fire that would give firefighters more trouble.

So far, the New South Wales fires have burned over 280,000 acres of land. To put that into perspective, that's 437.5 square miles...Montgomery County is 487 square miles in size. Essentially, it's all but Upper and Lower Moreland, Abington, Cheltenham, and the boroughs inside those townships such as Jenkintown in terms of geographic impact.  That's a lot of real estate -- largely rural but with 300 homes destroyed, it's still a large number of families that have been impacted.

A cool front has pushed east and northeast into New South Wales during the day Tuesday (yesterday for us, they're 15 hours ahead), presenting some showers and cooler weather briefly as this front pushes in.  It is a temporary shot of relief for firefighters as winds have eased and clouds have provided a slightly cooler day down there. It's not much -- rainfall amounts down there have been modest with this system -- but it's better than nothing.

However, forecasts suggest wind and warmth for them ahead through the course of Wednesday (they're 15 hours ahead of us at the moment due to them and us both being on daylight time) as temperatures in Sydney approach 90 degrees. With gusty winds that could reach 30 miles per hour, firefighters will continue to have issues.

The bad news for them is that the season is just getting started and the worst of their fire season, which is often January and February, looms ahead.