Australia has officially declared the onset of an El Niño weather phenomenon as an unprecedented September heatwave grips the country’s southeast, resulting in the first total fire ban in three years.
“We are already seeing extreme conditions in some parts of the continent, particularly in the duration of heat,” Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Karl Braganza highlighted the extreme conditions.
The state of New South Wales (NSW) has experienced temperatures soaring up to 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) above the September average in recent days.
Sydney, Australia’s most populous city, registered temperatures of 34.4 degrees Celsius (93.9 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday, just shy of the all-time September record of 34.6 degrees Celsius (94.3 degrees Fahrenheit) set in 1965.
As a consequence of the soaring temperatures and strong winds, 61 bushfires had been reported across NSW as of Tuesday morning, with 13 still uncontained, according to authorities.
“Due to stronger than forecast winds along the far South Coast, catastrophic fire danger is expected this afternoon in the region. These are the most dangerous conditions for a fire,” NSW Rural Fire Service expressed concern.
Meteorologists anticipate that temperatures will remain high on Wednesday, with the strong winds creating some of the riskiest bushfire conditions since the devastating fires of 2019 that swept through southeastern Australia, resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of native animals and vast forest destruction, along with the loss of thousands of rural homes.
“We’re in for a tough couple of days, and we need the community to be very vigilant,” cautioned NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Rob Rogers.
In response to the heightened fire risk, 21 schools in NSW, primarily along the state’s southern coast, have been closed.
Australia has also been grappling with wildfires on the outskirts of Sydney. Firefighters initiated controlled blazes in the region to mitigate the threat of bushfires ahead of an anticipated hot and dry summer in the southern hemisphere.
El Niño typically leads to drier conditions in Australia and is associated with extreme weather events like cyclones and droughts. The World Meteorological Organization previously forecasted a 90 percent likelihood of El Niño conditions emerging in the latter half of 2023.
Although the current September heatwave is expected to abate with the arrival of a cold front, temperatures are predicted to drop back to the low 20s on Thursday.
“This summer will be hotter than average, and certainly hotter than the last three years,” BOM cautioned.
Since the conclusion of the so-called Black Summer bushfires in March 2020, Australia has witnessed a series of wetter and cooler summers.Email your news TIPS to Editor@kahawatungu.com or WhatsApp +254707482874