It’s only mid-January, but it’s already been a horror summer of bushfires with catastrophic blazes in Western Australia and South Australia.
Since October, bushfires have burnt through more than half a million hectares of land, killed thousands of livestock and destroyed hundreds of homes and other buildings.
Fire seasons have increased in length by 20 percent from 1978 to 2013, according to a report released in November.
Worryingly, this means that the fire seasons in the Northern and Southern hemispheres are beginning to overlap, straining fire-fighting equipment that has historically been shared between countries in opposite hemispheres.
Unfortunately, fire authorities say we should be bracing for more frequent and more dangerous fires as record temperatures and El Nino season come into full force.
“On days where we have 40 degrees with high winds we know they’re going to be bad days,” says Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre CEO DR Richard Thornton.
“What El Nino will do is increase the likelihood of having those bad days, and see long periods of above-normal weather and below-average rainfall.”
According to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), an El Nino occurs when sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean become substantially warmer than average, and this causes a shift in atmospheric circulation.
[Future climate predictions from the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO]
While there’s a higher likelihood of having a bad fire during an El Nino year, Dr Thornton is noticing a disturbing pattern.
“The intensity of the fires is no different than what it was in the 1800s. However, the time between the reoccurrence of those really bad years seems to be getting closer together.”
Earlier this month, the BOM released findings that 2015 was Australia’s fifth-warmest year on record with national rainfall below average.
Australia’s temperature has gone up almost an entire degree this century and BOM climatologist Kevin Smith warns that the extreme temperatures are already having an impact.
“With the warmer temperatures we get an increase in bushfire risks, heatwaves and things like longer frost seasons, which have a heavier impact on our environment and our wellbeing.”