The land down under continues to be up in flames. Record-breaking heat, a prolonged drought and whipping winds have turned the nation into a tinderbox. The bushfires fuel on hot, parched ground that has long been lacking rainfall.
The pattern has been driven by a circulation known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, or ‘IOD’. In its current phase, which is the positive phase of the index, cold sea-surface temperatures are present in the eastern part of the ocean and warm sea-surface temperatures are present in the western part of the ocean. This set-up prevents lift in the atmosphere, and greatly reduces the amount of moisture that gets transported towards Australia.
Dry thunderstorms have also been a culprit. Lightning strikes have ignited several fires in Queensland and Victoria, but no rain reached the ground.
Fires have claimed the lives of several dozen people, and destroyed more than 6,000 structures, including over 2,000 homes. Nearly 30 million acres have been charred. For perspective, that is a third of the size of California. California’s record-shattering fire season of 2018, the worst in state history ‘only’ burned 2 million acres.
It is also estimated that close to a billion animals in New South Wales have been killed by the ongoing infernos, and ecologists fear that some endangered species could be driven to extinction by the fires.
Heartbreaking visuals continue to emerge from the country day after day. Even communities away from the blazes have been subjected to smoke-filled skies for weeks.
Fire danger will remain high, until a significant weather pattern change arrives. Unfortunately, the Australia Meteorology Bureau is forecasting warmer and drier than average conditions until at least March.