Australia sweats in heatwave raising bushfire risk amid El Niño

Australia sweats in heatwave raising bushfire risk amid El Niño

SYDNEY — Large swaths of Australia sweltered on Sunday in a heatwave, the nation’s weather forecaster said, raising bushfire risk in an already high-risk fire season amid an El Niño weather pattern.

Heatwave alerts at “extreme” level, the highest danger rating, were in place for a second day for parts of Western Australia and were extended to South Australia, while areas of Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory were under “severe” warnings, the weather forecaster said.

It cautioned that in Western Australia, the nation’s largest state, the remote Pilbara and Gascoyne areas could hit high forties degrees Celsius (about 120 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday.

About 1,500 km (930 miles) north of the state capital Perth, in the Pilbara mining town of Paraburdoo, a maximum temperature of 48 degrees Celsius (118.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was forecast, more than seven degrees above the average January maximum, according to forecaster data. It was 31.1 C (87.9 F) there at 6:30a.m local time.

Australia’s highest temperature on record of 50.7 C (123.2 F) was logged at the Pilbara’s Onslow Airport on Jan. 13, 2022.

On the east coast, parts of New South Wales’ capital Sydney were forecast on Sunday to reach 40 C, almost 10 degrees above the average January maximum.

The hot, dry conditions raised the risk of bushfires in some areas, the weather forecaster said, as Australia endures an El Niño weather event, typically associated with extreme phenomena such as wildfires, cyclones and droughts.

The last two bushfire seasons in Australia have been subdued compared with the 2019-2020 “Black Summer” when bushfires destroyed an area the size of Turkey, killed 33 people, 3 billion animals and trillions of invertebrates. — Reuters