Data

Data | What made the Australian bushfires so severe this season?

Adelaide wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk is seen with a koala rescued at a burning forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Australia, January 7, 2020.

Adelaide wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk is seen with a koala rescued at a burning forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Australia, January 7, 2020.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

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At least 24 people and more than one billion animals have been killed as on January 8

Australia is facing one of its worst bushfire seasons in history, which has caused the deaths of at least 24 people and more than one billion animals (an estimate by The University of Sydney) as on January 8. Though bushfires are common in the country, the current spell has witnessed more than 80,000 fires, a scale not seen in at least two decades. The 2019 fires have come as a double whammy to a nation already reeling under the hottest and driest-ever conditions in 100 years.

Searing heat

In 2019, Australia was 1.52°C warmer than the average temperature between 1961 and 1990, the hottest year on record since 1900. December 2019 was accompanied by record-breaking heat across the country with maximum temperatures soaring to 41.9C. The country's six hottest days on record were all in December 2019.

Such levels of heat caused the “fuel load” (amount of fallen bark, leaf litter and small branches) to catch fire or continue to burn.

Record temperatures

image/svg+xml 1.5 1 0.5 0 -0.5 -1 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2019 The graph shows the change from the average temperature between 1961 and 1990 for each year. The temperature change has been on the rise for the past five years (2015 to 2019), a phenomenon never seen since 1900 In December 18, 2019, the average temperature reached a record high of 41.9 0 C
 

 

Bone dry

In 2019, Australia received its lowest-ever rainfall. It also recorded the biggest annual drop in rainfall (187.56 mm lower than the 1961-1990 average). Low relative humidity causes fuel load to dry up more easily and become more flammable.

Extremely low rainfall

image/svg+xml 300 200 100 0 -100 -200 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2019 The graph shows the change from the average rainfall between 1961 and 1990 for each year In 2019, the average rainfall was 277.63 mm the lowest ever since 1900
 

 

Extreme blaze

The record-breaking heat accompanied by extreme drought has resulted in the bushfires spiralling out of control, especially in New South Wales, which is battling its worst fire season in at least 20 years.

Catastrophic fires

image/svg+xml 80,000 70,000 60,000 50,000 40,000 30,000 20,000 10,000 Jan. Dec. The graph shows cumulative fire detections from January to December for the last 20 years. The fire detections for 2019 are marked in red, while the other years are greyed-out July
 

 

Source: Bureau of Meteorology of Australian Government, NYT Graphic Service

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 12:34:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/data/data-what-made-the-australian-bushfires-so-severe-this-season/article30556125.ece

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