Australian Fires and Climate Change

Weather Headlines

So far this Australian fire season, more than 15 million acres have burned, which equals roughly the size of the state of West Virginia. For perspective, this is dramatically larger than the area burned during the past two years of fires in California–2018 (1.01 million acres) and 2019 (136,000 acres). The Australian state of New South Wales, home of Sydney, has more than 100 active fires.

THE CLIMATE CHANGE ROLE

  • There has been a long‑term increase in both extreme fire weather and the length of the fire season across large parts of Australia
  • Although there is year-to-year variability in the fire risk (via ENSO, Indian Ocean Dipole, and Southern Annular Mode), climate change is producing more dangerous long-term conditions for bushfires 
  • Observations indicate an earlier start of the fire season, particularly in parts of southern and eastern Australia, where the population is highest
  • Fire risk will continue to increase as greenhouse gas emissions cause further warming

KEY STATISTICS

  • Last month was the driest and hottest December on record in Australia; December average temperature was 5.8°F (3.2°C) above average 
  • 2019 was the hottest and driest year on record in Australia (100+ years of records)
  • The hottest two days on record for the country came during this stretch: a record  nationwide average of 105.6°F on December 17 was broken the very next day at 107.4°F 
  • The monthly averaged Australian Forest Fire Danger Index in December was the highest on record for most of the country

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