A hotter, drier summer has worsened fire season in Australia

Image by ABC News, from flickr

Tyler Chalfant | January 7th, 2019

Though the new year has begun with relatively mild temperatures in Iowa, on the other side of the world, Australia is experiencing an unusually warm summer, leading to deadly fires in the southern part of the continent. The fires escalated over the weekend, as parts of the country hit record high-temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 

2019 saw Australia’s driest spring on record. The dry season contributed to warmer days and cooler nights, as cloud cover and soil moisture, both of which serve as moderating factors. The dry, warm and windy conditions have led to bigger fires spreading in multiple directions. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the dry conditions are due in part to an air circulation pattern known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, or IOD. When the IOD is in its positive phase, it leads to cooler waters and lower precipitation in Australia. The IOD has been in this positive position for two years in a row, making conditions even drier. This back-to-back positive is unusual, but likely to occur more often going forward as a result of climate change. 

So far, the blazes have burned 12 million acres, an area larger than Switzerland, and claimed 24 lives. Thousands have been evacuated, and the Australian military has been deployed to help in the firefighting efforts. 

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