‘Worst yet to come’: Expert’s grim warning
As hundreds of fires continue to wreak devastation across the country, a climate expert has warned "the worst may be yet to come", with a summer of cyclones, floods and soaring temperatures on the way.
Neville Nicholls, professor emeritus at Monash University's School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, said peak time for heatwaves in southern Australia - where temperatures nudged 50C on Saturday - was still weeks away.
At least 25 people have lost their lives nationwide, with six people still unaccounted for in NSW and Victoria, as fires - some intense enough to generate their own thunderstorms - continue to burn in every state.
Around 1500 homes have been destroyed and millions of hectares razed, sending ash and smoke 2000km across the Tasman and turning the skies of Auckland orange.
Now Prof Nicholls said Australia should prepare for more misery, with extreme weather systems such as "cyclones, floods and heatwaves" set to push our emergency services and resources to their limits.
"Public attention on the disastrous bushfire crisis in Australia will rightly continue for weeks to come," he wrote in The Conversation on January 5.
"But as we direct resources to coping and recovery, we should not forget other weather and climate challenges looming this summer.
"We are still a month away from the riskiest time for heatwaves in southern Australia. We've already had some severe heatwaves this summer. However, they usually peak in the middle and end of summer, so the worst may be yet to come.
"Lives have undoubtedly been saved this summer by improved forecasting of high temperatures and better dissemination of heatwave information by state and local governments. "But after an already devastating early summer of fires and heat, warning fatigue may set in among both warning providers and the public.
"We must ensure heatwave warnings continue to be disseminated to populations at risk and are acted on."
Prof Nicholls said many parts of the country could expect heavy rains and flooding - and not only in the northern states, where cyclone season was "just gearing up".
Australia experienced its driest year on record last year and heavy rain, while welcome, would present new perils.
"The flood risk is exacerbated by the bare soil and lack of vegetation caused by drought and by bushfires that destroy forest and grassland," he said.
"Australia's north may be particularly hard hit. The onset of the tropical wet season has been very much delayed as the Bureau (of Meteorology) predicted.
"Over the last three months, some parts of the Australian tropics had their lowest ever October-December rainfall. But there are some suggestions widespread rain may be on its way.
"Further south, drought-breaking rains can also be heavy and widespread, leading to increased flood risk. So even when the drought breaks and rains quell the fires, there will likely still be bouts of extreme weather and high demand for emergency services."
The climate expert's warning was bolstered overnight with the formation of Cyclone Blake off the coast of Western Australia.
Heavy rain and strong winds are set to batter the Kimberley coast late today before moving into the Pilbara tomorrow.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the system was 335km west of Kuri Bay and 320km north to northwest of Broome and was tracking parallel to the Kimberley Coast.
The reach of #CycloneBlake extends into the western #TopEnd with some outer rainbands currently over the west coast. #Darwin can expect some rainfall in the next few hours. Check the radar at https://t.co/m0lnqS9PkM before you head outside. pic.twitter.com/v6DacjAEK3— Bureau of Meteorology, Northern Territory (@BOM_NT) January 6, 2020
Tropical Cyclone Blake has developed over waters to the north of Broome and is likely to cause gales along the northwest Kimberley coast during Monday. https://t.co/B1MVXBYXhh pic.twitter.com/9sXZ9LCzfY— Bureau of Meteorology, Western Australia (@BOM_WA) January 6, 2020
I hope @BOM_au has spoken to WA and NT Premiers and they’ve passed message to PM, so they can make plans for very heavy rain west, including talking to Navy, who need now to talk to NT/WA Premier and DFES and SES and NTPFES abt plans for these two tropical lows next week. pic.twitter.com/zVH1QdK9LW— Ian Mannix (@sedvitae) January 6, 2020
The ferocity and scale of Australia's bushfires have horrified the world, with several countries, including the US, Canada and New Zealand, flying in extra firefighters and celebrities pledging massive donations to rural volunteers and victims.
David Bowman, pyrogeography and fire science professor and director of the University of Tasmania's Fire Centre Research Hub, compared the situation to a "war".
"The intensity, the scale, the number, the geographical range, the fact that they're occurring simultaneously and the sorts of environments that are burning are all extraordinary," Prof Bowman told TIME magazine.
"We're in the middle of a war situation … mass evacuations, the involvement of the military, hugely exhausted firefighting campaigns, it's difficult to explain."
Gosh this is so awkward. Australian PM Scott Morrison goes to try and shake the hand of a firefighter who does not appear keen. (The PM was abused earlier by angry locals) Filmed by @GregNelsonACS @abcnews #AustraliaBurning #NSWbushfires #SouthCoastFires pic.twitter.com/3zjeJp3jWe— Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) January 2, 2020
Incredible clip (unfortunately, heavily censored) of Aus' PM visiting the devastated town of Cobargo— Ketan Joshi (@KetanJ0) January 2, 2020
Morrison grabs the hand of a woman who tried to say that she'd refuse to shake hands unless he committed more resources to the area (and then walks away)https://t.co/vPJw0PGEB6 pic.twitter.com/ZtPXZRa2df
High-profile climate scientist and author Tim Flannery said Australia was in the grip of "a national catastrophe" that would be extremely difficult to fix, let alone recover from.
"It's clear that whatever the Government policies are, they are inadequate," Prof Flannery told Democracy Now! on Friday.
"We have seen enormous damage in this country to infrastructure, loss of human life and to biodiversity. And this is being driven by climate change. We know that because the chances of this occurring naturally, they're about one in 350 to have a year as hot as this."