hcubed's WunderBlog

Australia faces 'catastrophic' days as wildfires rage in 5 of country's 6 states.

By: hcubed, 2:28 PM GMT on January 07, 2013

"...CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia was bracing on Monday for days of "catastrophic" fire and heat-wave conditions, with fires already burning in five states.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard toured fire-ravaged Tasmanian townships and promised emergency aid for survivors, who told of a "fireball" that engulfed communities across the thinly populated state on Friday and Saturday.

"The trees just exploded," local man Ashley Zanol told Australian radio, recounting a wall of flames that surrounded his truck as he carted water to assist fire crews in the hard-hit township of Murdunna, which was largely leveled by the inferno.

Tasmanian police said around 100 people feared missing in bushfires had been accounted for and there had so far been no deaths as authorities combed through still-smouldering ruins of homes and vehicles, while evacuating local people and tourists..."

Well, that right there is a good sign - no deaths so far.

"...Bushfires were ablaze in five of Australia's six states, with 90 fires in the most populous state New South Wales, and in mountain forests around the national capital Canberra.

Severe fire conditions were forecast for Tuesday, replicating those of 2009, when "Black Saturday" wildfires in Victoria state killed 173 people and caused $4.4 billion worth of damage..."

Of course, that 2009 "black friday" fire hasn't been the only one; if you were to look into the past, you'd find an entire "week" of "red/black/ash days:

Red Tuesday 1898/Tazmanian Black Tuesday 1967
Ash Wednesday I 1980, Ash Wenesday II 1983
Black Thursday 1851
Black Friday 1938
Black Saturday 2009
Black Sunday 1955

It appears that Monday hasn't been claimed yet (but Christmas was - The Black Christmas bushfires were bushfires that burnt for almost three weeks from 25 December 2001 across New South Wales, Australia. It was the longest continuous bushfire emergency in NSW history).

Back to the story:

"...A record heat wave, which began in Western Australia on Dec. 27 and lasted eight days, was the fiercest in more than 80 years in that state. It has spread east across the nation, making it the widest-ranging heat wave in more than a decade, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology..."

Of course, it's also about 152 days less than the longest heatwave ever (160 consecutive days of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more). BTW, the town of Marble Bar is in Western Australia. So when they say this new "record" heatwave was the fiercest in more than 80 years in that state, they're close. That record was set about 89 years ago.

"...New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell said record-low rains have produced large fuel loads that increase the risk of fire, combined with record temperatures and high winds, Australia's 7 News reported.

"Tomorrow [Tuesday] is not going to be just another ordinary day," he said. "Tomorrow will be perhaps the worst fire danger day this state has ever faced."

Tuesday would bring the highest "catastrophic" bushfire temperature conditions, fire officials said, warning that many blazes would likely be too fierce for fire crews to easily extinguish.

"Any fire that burns under the predicted conditions -- 40-degree (Celsius) temperatures (104 degrees F), below 10 percent humidity, winds gusting over 70 kilometers an hour (43 mph) -- those conditions are by any measure horrendous," New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

In the Australian capital, Canberra, hit by a firestorm in 2003 that destroyed hundreds of homes, authorities said they were expecting the worst conditions in the decade since, with a fifth day of searing temperatures and strong winds.

"With those winds it boosts up the fire danger significantly," the city's deputy fire chief Michael Joyce told local reporters.

Blazes sparked by weekend lightning storms were already burning in forests surrounding the sprawling lake-and-bushland city, as they did 10 years earlier..."

So they're having bad fires, but so far, it's not as bad as the Black Thursday bushfires of 1851.

These were a devastating series of fires that swept the state of Victoria, Australia on 6 February 1851. They are considered the largest Australian bushfires in a populous region in recorded history, with approximately 5 million hectares, or a quarter of Victoria, being burnt. 12 lives were lost, along with one million sheep and thousands of cattle.

"...The year 1850 had been one of exceptional heat and drought. Pastures had withered; creeks had become fissured clay-pans; water-holes had disappeared; sheep and cattle had perished in great numbers, and the sun-burnt plains were strewn with their bleached skeletons; the very leaves upon the trees crackled in the heat, and appeared to be as inflammable as tinder.

After five weeks of hot northerly winds, on the 6th of February, 1851 known as Black Thursday, probably Victoria's most extensive bushfires, apparently started in the Plenty Ranges when two bullock drivers left some logs burning which set fire to long, drought-parched grass..."

(Historical data extracted from: "Picturesque Atlas of Australasia" a three-volume geographic encyclopaedia of Australia and New Zealand compiled and published in 1886).

Updated: 2:31 PM GMT on January 07, 2013


Does the UK's Met Office make accurate forecasts?

By: hcubed, 7:14 PM GMT on January 06, 2013

Well, as an example, let's look at their rainfall forecasts they made during 2012. Remember, their forecasts are based on information from observations, several numerical models and expert judgement.

On 23rd March, they predicted “The forecast for average UK rainfall slightly favours drier than average conditions for April/May/June as a whole, and also slightly favours April being the driest of the 3 months.”


http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/p/i/A3-layo ut-precip-AMJ.pdf

On 24th August, their forecast for September “weakly favours below normal values”.


http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/i/e/A3-plot s-precip-SON.pdf

On 21st September, they said “For UK-averaged rainfall the predicted probabilities favour below normal rainfall during October. For the period October-November-December as a whole the range of forecasts also favours lower than average rainfall”


http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/h/g/A3-plot s-precip-OND.pdf

On 24th October, they forecast “Predictions for UK-mean precipitation for both November and the November-December-January period are similar to climatology”


http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/q/6/A3-plot s-precip-NDJ.pdf

And on 20th November, “Predictions for UK-mean precipitation for December show a slight shift towards below-normal values – consistent with negative North Atlantic Oscillation conditions”


http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/j/i/A3_plot s-precip-DJF.pdf

So for the seven months between April and December, that forecasts are available for, the Met Office forecast drier than normal conditions in six, and normal in the seventh. They failed to get any month correct, and for the seven months in question, rainfall averaged 36% above normal levels, (which are based on 1981-2010.)

Maybe they need a larger, more powerful computer.


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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About hcubed

Living in Biloxi MS, have been here since '85 (first Hurricane was Elena).