A new report warns that there is a high risk of a “devastating” bushfire season next summer. The report, published by the Climate Council and the group Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, is based on climate modelling and the views of emergency management experts. It suggests the heightened risk is due to several years of rain, which have created a vegetation “powder keg,” leaving large parts of the country “primed to burn.”
First the rain…
Since the last severe bushfire season in the summer of 2019-20, Australia has had three years of “La Niña” conditions leading to high rainfall. The report suggests this has led to vegetation growth, which heightens fire risk in drier conditions. The amount of “fire fuel loads” in some inland areas is now several times higher than normal levels. “These same areas – so recently green – are now turning brown and yellow as heatwaves sweep across the country, priming grasslands to burn.”
…Then the heat
Climate models point to a likely shift towards hot, dry “El Niño” conditions in the second half of 2023. The report suggests that even a relatively neutral weather pattern could unleash extreme fire danger. This threat would be highest if the hot and dry conditions are matched by strong winds. If this occurs, the report warns “Australia could see grass fires unfold on a scale never before experienced.”
What can be done?
The report recommends steps for governments to prepare for fire danger. Recommendations include more funding for emergency services and land management agencies, including permanent emergency workforces rather than the current “ad hoc” approach. The report also suggests more effort in preparing for, adapting to, and mitigating disaster risk in dangerous areas.
“Australia has long been referred to as a land of ‘drought and flooding rains,’ prone to bushfires as well as intense rainfall events. Periods of hot, dry, windy weather have regularly dried out vegetation and made it susceptible to ignition, alternating with prolonged wet periods… “Climate change, driven by the burning of coal, oil, and gas, is worsening these extreme weather events.”
Climate Council and Emergency Leaders for Climate Action