Australia’s Extreme Heat Prompts Fears of Another “Black Summer”

Bush fire at Captain Creek central Queensland Australia. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season burnt more than 18 million hectares across the country, destroyed more than 2,000 homes, and claimed the lives of 34 people and about one billion animals. The devastation was gutwrenching and a wake-up call to the entire world that climate change is our greatest existential threat.

Yet as fire crews from around the world worked to contain the flames, a report issued by the Australian government showed that the brushfires could very well come back the next year with even more intensity.

Those fears were in part realized this weekend as parts of Australia, including Sydney, sweltered through the hottest November night on record, prompting authorities to issue a total fire ban. Scores of brushfires erupted around Sydney, a dire sign that the 2019-20 “Black Summer” wasn’t an anomaly.

Why This Matters: Australia has the highest rate of vertebrate mammal extinction in the world and fires severely threaten already the continent’s endemic species and unique ecosystems. What’s more, is that widespread fires are unsustainable for the economy and human life, underscoring the crosscutting threat of climate change. 

Australia’s Fire Risk: This past summer the Australian government published a report from the New South Wales (NSW) Bushfire Inquiry that assessed the devastating fire season and concluded that the brushfires were “extreme, and extremely unusual,” but warned that “it is clear that we should expect fire seasons like 2019-20, or potentially worse, to happen again.”

As CNN reported,

  • It also said climate change “clearly played a role in the conditions that led up to the fires and in the unrelenting conditions that supported the fires to spread, but climate change does not explain everything that happened.”
  • Fires burned through forested regions at a rate never before seen in recorded history, according to the report.
  • There were 89 fire-generated firestorms — extremely dangerous phenomena that cause lightning, tornadoes and extreme winds — a 50% increase from the 2018-19 season.

Looking Ahead: Voice of America wrote that Australia’s approaching summer is forecast to be wet with an increased risk of floods and tropical cyclones, according to the national Bureau of Meteorology’s climate outlook. It predicts conditions will be wetter and cooler than recent years but warns there is still a risk of bushfires for southern Australia.

The brushfires that erupted over the past week along with extreme heat condition have Australians on edge.

Go Deeper: How Indigenous knowledge could help prevent Australian bushfires.

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