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Is Climate Change Affecting Bushfires? 397

Posted by kdawson
from the burning-question dept.
TapeCutter writes "After the devastating firestorm in Australia, there has been a lot of speculation in the press about the role of climate change. For the 'pro' argument the BBC article points to research by the CSIRO. For the 'con' argument they quote David Packham of Monash university, who is not alone in thinking '...excluding prescribed burning and fuel management has led to the highest fuel concentrations we have ever had...' However, the DSE's 2008 annual report states; '[The DSE] achieved a planned burning program of more than 156,000 hectares, the best result for more than a decade. The planned burning of forest undergrowth is by far the most powerful management tool available...' I drove through Kilmore on the evening of the firestorm, and in my 50 years of living with fire I have never seen a smoke plume anything like it. It was reported to be 15 km high and creating its own lightning. There were also reports of car windscreens and engine blocks melting. So what was it that made such an unusual firestorm possible, and will it happen again?"
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Is Climate Change Affecting Bushfires?

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  • It burns! It burns!

  • ...so it didn't cause the bushfires. Fires like this are normal. Suburbs sprawling into the bush are abnormal. Fifty or a hundred years from now it may be a different story.
    • by Nit Picker (9292) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:39PM (#27026185)

      More fundamentally, no one drought can be directly attributed to global warming, just as the current cold winter in NA can be considered as casting doubt on global warming.

      Over time, global warming may make droughts such as the one that exacerbated the current AU fire situation more common. During the change, the vegetation left over from the wetter period before global warming will result in some spectacular fires, but it will only be in hindsight that we can say fires were a result of the change.

      • Oops (Score:3, Informative)

        by Nit Picker (9292)

        ...just as the current cold winter in North America canNOT be considered as casting douby...

      • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @09:18PM (#27026393) Journal
        "the vegetation left over from the wetter period before global warming will result in some spectacular fires"

        Much of the bush in the area (indeed the entire state) has been burnt several times since our last "wet period" over a decade ago. In the summer of 2006-2007 Melbourne was blanketed in smoke for two months where as the normal situation might see smoke for a week or two.
        • See also: Indian Ocean Dipole [wikipedia.org].

          It's been stuck in the "positive" phase for 3 seasons, which is unprecedented in recent history (past ~100y). The positive phase seems to correspond with warmer western Indian Ocean water. Effects of this phase are stronger monsoons on the Indian subcontinent and deeper droughts in the east.

          Here [jamstec.go.jp] is the site maintained by the team who first described the phenomenon in 1999. It has since been evidenced by historical observations this century and examination of fossil coral. BB

    • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @09:08PM (#27026357) Journal
      "Fires like this are normal."

      This is incorrect, fire is normal but this one was not (regardless of the death and destruction). There is a metric called the Fire Danger Index [csiro.au] that is used to issue warnings and declare total fire ban days, it is calibrated on the 1939 fires having an index of 100, IIRC the ash wednesday fires that I also witnessed had an index of 70-120. The abnormal conditions [bom.gov.au] for this fire saw the index in the unheard of range of 150-200.
      • by MrKaos (858439) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @10:05PM (#27026671) Journal

        fire is normal but this one was not

        I think one of the primary issues is we haven't let native Australian's burn the bush the way they always have in the cooler months of the year (say around May or June). I remember seeing something about this on the ABC that because the burning was being done in those cooler months the intensity of the fires were greatly reduced and the most volatile fuel was burnt.

        This also had the effect of leaving the less volatile fuel in the ground, so the soil had a higher carbon content and was less prone to bushfires. Ironically, the Aborigines in question were being paid by a power company to do the burning because it offset the power plants carbon emissions.

        The reality of Australia's management of the land is we have a lot to learn from Native Australian's, and that's a humility that goes beyond just saying 'Sorry'. Until we grasp that, as a nation, we will have more of these bushfires.

        • That lesson was learnt many decades ago (at least in victoria) and there are few (zero?) aboriginals who live anything like their ancestors in this state. The DSE have been critsized for not doing enough and they have also been critsized when controlled burns have escaped and caused material damage. I have not heard of the power company story and would be interested to find out more, do you have a link?
          • by MrKaos (858439)

            I have not heard of the power company story and would be interested to find out more, do you have a link?

            Unfortunately not TC. I do know the scheme was run(ing) in the Northern Territory.

            I think the same can be said for NSW. I have been evacuated once from a bush fire and have witnessed the bush around Sydneys F3 freeway burning badly enough to close the free way.

            I did see elvis [wikipedia.org] though - man that thing is huge!

            • Ahhh, NT, yes they have been justifyably critisized for their ignorance, however the bush in NT is vastly different to the forrests found in Victoria.
    • by hey! (33014)

      "Not cutting in yet"?

      Um. Is that the flavor of the week?

  • NO... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:37PM (#27026183)

    The answer is no.
    Despite Al Gore and Michael Moore's best efforts, climate change did not get Bush fired ... we had to rely on the 22nd amendment to get the job done.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:39PM (#27026187)

    Some years ago, Fine Homebuilding did an article about houses that did and did not survive wildfires in California. The houses that survived had certain characteristics. They were clad with non-burning material like stucco. They had metal or tile roofs. They didn't catch heat under the eaves. They didn't have trees near the house. The plantings they did have mattered. There was one kind of ground cover that was full of water and that would burst if heated, releasing the water and cooling the fire.

    The Australian houses I have seen (in pictures, I haven't been there) had almost none of the characteristics of the houses that survived the California fires. So, my question is; if you live in a country that has bush fires, why don't you build your houses to accommodate that fact?

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:57PM (#27026293) Homepage Journal
      Its a good question. About a week ago there was an article in the paper here in Melbourne about a family who survived the fires in a concrete house. Building standards are going to change before new houses are built so I expect the situation to improve.

      Some of the houses in the affected areas were as much as 100 years old. They were built when timber was the only material available. Later houses tended to be built the same way either because of tradition, or people wanting to build houses which fitted in with the historic designs.

      I work with a guy who has a two story oiled timber house. On the day of the fire he was away from home with his family. When he finally got back a couple of days later he was surprised to find it still there. Another person I work with lost his home (and old farm house) in the fire and barely escaped. They actually drove one way into the fire, turned around and took the last clear road out of the area.

      As for vegetation around houses home owners have been blaming local council regulations which prevent them from cutting down trees. One family were fined for removing a tree and later credited that act with saving their house.
      • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @09:31PM (#27026487) Journal
        Yes, the building code could certainly do with an upgrade. When I was growing up many people had small fire bunkers dug into the ground and every local fire-brigade had a air-raid style siren. Neither are common today.

        "As for vegetation around houses home owners have been blaming local council regulations which prevent them from cutting down trees. One family were fined for removing a tree and later credited that act with saving their house."

        You may be interested in the councils side of that story, the minutes can be found here [vic.gov.au] (pdf warning). I don't know what happend to the four acres of trees Mr Shehan cut down but from my days working on an old growth sawmill a back of the envelope calculation says that many trees would have yeilded ~5000 tons of processed timber and several thousand tons of woodchips.
    • by couchslug (175151) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @09:40PM (#27026529)

      Traditional wood-framed (cheap shit) construction is popular because it can be assembled with a three-man crew. The components are light (therefore easy to lift) and do not require much in the way of tools on-site. Wood, wood products, plastic, and so forth are very easy to work with for a contractor with modest experience. The tools fit in a pickup truck.

      People don't think about what they are buying other than wanting it to look like everything else.

      People don't think about using fire-resistant materials like concrete which are far superior to wood, nor do they choose modern metal roofing which is durable and easily outlasts shingles (and weighs less, is stronger in storms, and is much easier to install).

      If you want a house to resist fire, simple concrete block construction on a cement slab with a steel roof on steel trusses is a fine way to go. Cut GENEROUS firebreaks around it (fires need fuel, so cut down the brush and trees and compost them away from structures) and have some amount of water under pressure available to fight fire should it reach your home.

      If you want outbuildings to resist fire, store flammables outdoors in lockers away from them, and use metal for your structures. I use two forty-foot ISO containers (buy the 9'6" High Cubes if you have a choice) and a Steelmaster garage.

      Concrete is durable, termites don't eat it, it doesn't burn, and it lasts far longer than wood. If you want sexy, rustic concrete then mimic adobe structures. Containers are also excellent and could easily replace single-wide mobile homes, and are far stronger and more weatherproof (good to 100mph winds!).

    • by Swampash (1131503) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @10:20PM (#27026719)

      Thanks to the influence of the environmental lobby in Australia, we have situations like this:

      http://www.theage.com.au/national/fined-for-illegal-clearing-family-now-feel-vindicated-20090211-84sw.html?page=-1 [theage.com.au]

      Summary: the Sheahan family of Victoria bulldozed a firebreak around their house to protect them in case of a catastrophic bushfire. Of course, anything that involves killing trees places you somewhere between "pedophile" and "war criminal" these days, so the family were taken to court by the local council, and ended up $100,000 poorer.

      Then a catastrophic bushfire came along and the Sheahan's is now practically the only house left standing in the district.

      • by rts008 (812749)

        Any hope of them reclaiming any of the fine? (from USA-don't know anything about your laws)

        In their shoes, I would be grateful for still having my home...but would be really pissed about the fine after having been proven right!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cally (10873)
      I think perhaps you don't appreciate the power of these fires [smh.com.au]. In a firestorm like this, where the radiant heat's enough to kill a couple of hundred metres away, it's not really going to make much difference having a stone or tin roof.
  • by DamienNightbane (768702) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:41PM (#27026203)
    The ever increasing severity of wildfires in Australia, North America, and elsewhere have nothing to do with any hypothetical climate change. It has everything to do with honest to Cowboy Neal human intervention.

    Every year, dry areas with lots of vegetation catch fire. This is natural. Every year, humans that are stupid enough to build flammable houses in fire prone areas fight the fires and put them out. This is not natural. If the fire was let to burn out on its own, the thick and highly flammable undergrowth would turn into fertilizer for the larger, healthier, and more fire resistant plants that have historically survived such wildfires. Unfortunately, because society likes to coddle the retards that build in fire prone areas, the undergrowth survives year after year and becomes thicker and thicker. Then when the conditions are especially ripe, like during a drought and wind storm, the brush that had been saved for all those years suddenly goes up and creates a massive fire with the fury of all the years that human intervention prevented nature from taking care of the problem. Lo and behold, the massive super fire is much more destructive than the natural fires would have been. Good job.

    Flood prone areas with human settlement have the same problem. Levees prevent the natural yearly floods and deprive the land of the silt deposits that would have normally been left after the flood plains have lived up to their name. This causes the land to over time sink and become less fertile, and then when the levees fail OH MY GOD BUILD AN ARK THIS IS THE WORST FLOOD EVAR!!!1


    tl;dr climate isn't the problem, retards fighting nature is
    • by techno-vampire (666512) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:58PM (#27026297) Homepage
      This is not natural. If the fire was let to burn out on its own, the thick and highly flammable undergrowth would turn into fertilizer for the larger, healthier, and more fire resistant plants that have historically survived such wildfires.

      That's a nice theory, and it's a shame that it's wrong. The arid parts of Western Australia are home to chaparral, [wikipedia.org] the same as Southern California, although some of the species are different. Chaparral is notoriously prone to fire when conditions are right, and many of the species regrow quickly after a blaze. The plants aren't intruders that have pushed out the "more fire resistant native plants," they are the native plants. If you want to live there, you need to learn to keep the brush cut back, plant a barrier of less fire-prone plants around you and build a house that's not going to catch fire quickly when (not if) there's a wild fire.

    • by BlortHorc (305555) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @09:21PM (#27026425)

      The ever increasing severity of wildfires in Australia, North America, and elsewhere have nothing to do with any hypothetical climate change. It has everything to do with honest to Cowboy Neal human intervention.

      Every year, dry areas with lots of vegetation catch fire. This is natural. Every year, humans that are stupid enough to build flammable houses in fire prone areas fight the fires and put them out. This is not natural. If the fire was let to burn out on its own, the thick and highly flammable undergrowth would turn into fertilizer for the larger, healthier, and more fire resistant plants that have historically survived such wildfires.

      You, sir, haven't the slightest idea what you are talking about.

      The state of Victoria has been in the grips of the worst drought in a century for the past 12 years, leaving the whole state tinder dry.

      The day of Black Saturday the highest temperatures on record were observed in many parts of the state, and extremely hot, dry and high winds were blowing out of the semi-arid center of the country.

      You didn't even have to RFTA, you just had to see from TFS that here in Australia we do control burns in the off season, fuel management is a critical part of fire management in this country, especially when you consider that many parts of the country have acclimatised to the fire-stick agriculture practiced by the aboriginal inhabitant of this country for over 40,000 years

      If you seriously think that the already observed climatic changes are having no impact on the prevalence and severity of natural disasters around the globe you need to pull your head out of your arse and realise that's not coffee you've been smelling.

      • by Aladrin (926209)

        Do you even know what the 'observed climate changes' entail?

        From 1905 to 2005, the temperature only increase 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit. From 2005 to 2100, even the most pessimistic model only expects a change of 11.5 degrees. At that rate, it goes up 1 degree ever 8 years. So -maybe- since 1905 we've increased 2 degrees.

        Do you -really- think this massive fire was the result of those 2 degrees and not every other thing already posted by others here, including government incompetence in not controlling the d

        • by TapeCutter (624760) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @12:16AM (#27027229) Journal
          Here is a database of observed climate change impacts [columbia.edu]. Your facts are fundementally correct but your conclusion is not, nobody is arguing climate change was the sole cause and it is disingenous to accuse the GP of doing so.

          As for the observed temprature change being too small to affect large scale environmental change this is a silly argument that is easily debunked by observing Artic sea ice, it's like saying a teaspoon of sugar in your tank can't possibly do any harm to your engine. The amount of energy required to lift the global temprature even one degree is staggering yet the main cause of that increase is an increase in CO2 mesured in parts per million. That trapped energy must go somewhere and it does so mainly in the form of kinetic energy (below a 5km ceiling).

          The government may or may not be incompetent but you are ignoring the facts in my summary and you are also ignoring the fact that most of the state has already been (naturally) burnt in recent years, particulaly in the summer of 2006-2007.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by khallow (566160)

        You didn't even have to RFTA, you just had to see from TFS that here in Australia we do control burns in the off season

        Size of Victoria: 22.8 million hectares. Size of the "planned burns" for 2008, 156,000 hectares. You do the math. My take though is that burning what has to be around 1-2% of highly flammable land is insufficient especially given that there have been a few decades (right?) when Australia fought every fire that cropped up.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      Excellent form of natural selection though, isn't it?

      Regrettably, a lot of people don't have a choice but to live in those dangerous areas.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:42PM (#27026213)

    David Packham is our foremost expert in this area, he "wrote the book".

    It is clear that when you let 35-50 tonnes of fuel build up per hectare by not backburning then you will get these sized fires.

    We have had similar fires in the 1850s, 1870s, 1930s, 1980s. The common factor is the amount of fuel ready to be burnt.

    Shouldn't Climate Change have actually reduced fuel load by killing the trees?

    It has a lot to do with the fact that the Government departments failed to conduct the necessary backburning.

    There will always be arsonists, lightning strikes and stray cigarettes. We can't stop ignition. We CAN reduce the amount of fuel available to a bushfire. Climate change has nothing to do with proper back burning.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      There will always be arsonists,

      Yes but I do think that if we made less of a song and dance about forecast fire risk days, fewer arsonists would see the opportunity to make a name for themselves.

    • "David Packham is our foremost expert in this area, he "wrote the book"."

      So why is he peddling disinformation on the BBC and why is it that I could not find a description of his position at Monash?

      "It has a lot to do with the fact that the Government departments failed to conduct the necessary backburning."

      Please re-read the summary and look at the reference.
  • It's been classified more as "global weirding" rather than "Global Warming." Where I am from, it's freezing cold, and has had colder weather here than we normally have. But you can't just speculate and attribute these weather storms to global whatever. They have and will continue to happen regardless.
  • by acorn6 (1435671) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:48PM (#27026247)
    let's just wait for the findings of the Royal Commission before debating the merits of global warming vs green policy vs urban sprawl. The scale and ferocity of the firestorm has devestated entire communities. The sooner politics are removed from the debate the sooner the answers may be found. Neither side of the debate is immune from point scoring or spin. The fact remains that the indigenous Australians have used seasonal burning as a land mangement practise for thousands of years.The foolish guidelines allowing people to build combustable homes within heavily wooded areas without sensible conditions has led to the worst loss of life,both human & animal in the recorded history of the continent.To say the cause of this tradgedy is global warming is stupid
    • I know somebody who used to work for the MFB. He used to complain about the CFA all the time. I got the impression that the various fire fighting organisations in the state don't get along at all.

      I worked for Vic Roads for ten years and while I saw a lot of politics (particularly between Vic Roads and the police) it never got out of hand the way it seems to be happening within Connex and the fire authorities.
  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @09:19PM (#27026401)

    Climate change hasn't affected bushfire occurrences significantly in any way. This is all speculation and from a very unscientific standpoint as far as I can tell.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushfire#Significant_bushfires [wikipedia.org]
    Notice where many of these fires occur...Australia. And the documented dates go back to 1851. Climate change has nothing to do with anything, a bushfire is longstanding and naturally occurring event, and has been observed that way for 150 years on record.

    Where is the data that shows that fires have occurred more often and burn longer and stronger AND the reason so is climate change and not the fact that suburban sprawl introduces woodland areas to power lines, lit cigarettes as litter, and other human fire related causes?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_wildfire [wikipedia.org]
    There is the same issue with wildfires occurring in California. And an even bigger threat or cause of wildfires than global climate change is still lit cigarettes being discarded in woodland areas. More on that later.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN2327145120071023 [reuters.com]
    Here's a short article from Reuters discussing some basic wildfire facts in California.

    * During Santa Ana conditions, fires can be easily ignited by nature, in the case of lightning, or by humans. Some are arson, while others can be sparked by machinery operated near dry brush, campfires or carelessly tossed cigarettes. Downed power lines also pose a fire hazard. Once the wildfires are whipped by the winds, they spread quickly and are extremely dangerous and difficult to fight.

    * "Fire Season" officially begins in early summer and lasts through October, though officials say that as the state suffers through cyclical drought conditions, they consider the season to be almost year-round in Southern California.

    http://ca.prweb.com/releases/20061010/6/prweb393120.htm [prweb.com]

    In September 2002, a wildfire that scorched 247 acres on the Camp Pendleton, California base was started by a cigarette butt tossed by a passing motorist.

    In January 2001, a motorist driving along Interstate 8 in San Diego County flicked a cigarette butt onto the center median, sparking a fire that burned more than 10,000 acres, destroyed 16 homes and charred 64 vehicles.

    http://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/40452047.html [kbtx.com]

    In Texas, people cause 95 percent of wildfires. The Texas Forest Service says residents should not engage in activities, such as throwing out lit cigarettes, welding and burning debris, that could lead to an accidental wildfire start.

    So we are causing a vast amount of wildfires. In some places even 95 percent.

    Maybe climate change plays a large role in bushfires, but I need way more evidence to convince me that it's not people being careless with litter, downed power lines, or household electrical fires, etc. causing the majority of these fires.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushfire#Significant_bushfires [wikipedia.org]
      Notice where many of these fires occur...Australia. And the documented dates go back to 1851. Climate change has nothing to do with anything, a bushfire is longstanding and naturally occurring event, and has been observed that way for 150 years on record.

      No way. A term that isn't used outside of Australia (OK in a few little islands too) occurs mostly in Australia!

      That wouldn't be because the exact same thing is called a wildfire eve

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dryeo (100693)

      You misunderstand. The argument is not that global climate change is causing more fires but that global climate change is causing the fires to be more intense.
      As another poster pointed out, this part of Australia is suffering from one of the worst droughts recorded, the week before had record temperatures and the day the fires started was a record hot day. No matter whether human caused or otherwise fires start easier in hot dry conditions.
      Whether the unusual hot dry spell is caused by natural cycles or is

  • by thermian (1267986) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @09:51PM (#27026587)

    When Europeans first started to exert control over large areas of the Australian coast, they put a stop to the Aboriginal practice of starting bushfires annually. This was done to stop such fires damaging their crops and newly built properties for the most part.

    However, this frequent and deliberate starting of bushfires had come into being as a survival strategy. By starting such fires often, the Aboriginies avoided having vast, uncontrollable fires that posed a real danger.

    Since that time, bushfires have occurred that are exactly what the aboriginal practice had been designed to avoid, and due to the high density of Australia's coastal regions, the dmaage cost and death toll have been high.
    This has been noticed to a greater extent recently because the press are looking for things they can point to as evidence of global warming. This alas is no such thing, its just evidence of man failing to adapt to the requirements of an atypical environment.

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      Since that time, bushfires have occurred that are exactly what the aboriginal practice had been designed to avoid,

      I'm sure the Aboriginals set fire to the bush to get a few nice dinners, the fire management aspect just happened to be a much better side-affect. Since they have been doing it for so long even the trees adapted their seed pods for a fire so that the saplings would sprout in a nice fertile environment, sterilised of predators.

      And since those nice eucalyptus trees were exported to California ma

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The fires were a direct result of several actions:

    1) A hot and drier than usual summer
    2) A LOT of fuel on the ground
    3) "Environmentally Concious" governance, including banning clearing of ANY land whatsoever, even banning clearing of land as a means of fire reduction.
    4) Insufficient backburning, except for when it is too late.

    Obviously 3) and 4) are the problems here. If either 3 or 4 (or both) were allowed, then the death toll and property losses would be far less.

    Both 3 and 4 are the direct result of inte

  • There's a very famous quote by a member of one of the burned out communities. Basically, he was upset that they had been asking for years to have accumulated brush cleared, or even the right to clear brush near their homes, but this was blocked by environmentalists.

    The moral is pretty simple. Environmentalists make choices that try to balance people and nature, and if you choose nature sometimes over people, sometimes people will die for it. This isn't the only time this has happened, or will happen. Wh

  • No, postcard proof (Score:3, Informative)

    by arthurpaliden (939626) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @01:27AM (#27027585)
    I have here an old family postcard dated 1902 or 1907 mailed from Australia. It is a painting of a huge bush fire. The note on the back says that they were the worst anyone had ever seen. All manner of people, lovestock, fields, forests and buildings were destroied.
  • by BlackSabbath (118110) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @02:00AM (#27027721) Homepage

    By the Bushfire CRC and the CSIRO:
    http://www.bushfirecrc.com/research/downloads/climate-institute-report-september-2007.pdf [bushfirecrc.com]

    From the concluding remarks:

    "In this study, the potential impact of climate change on southeast Australia is estimated. Simulations from two CSIRO climate models using two greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions scenarios are combined with historical weather observations to assess the changes to fire weather expected by 2020 and 2050. In general, fire weather conditions are expected to worsen. ...
    The number of "extreme" fire danger days generally increases 5-25% for the low scenarios and 15-65% for the high scenarios. By 2050, the increases are generally 10-50% in the low scenarios and 100-300% for the high scenarios. The seasons are likely to become longer, starting
    earlier in the year.
    These results are placed in the context of the current climate and its tendencies. During the last several years in southeast Australia, including the 2006-07 season, particularly severe fire weather conditions have been observed. In many cases, the conditions far exceed the projections in the high scenarios of 2050. Are the models (or our methodology) too conservative or is some other factor at work?"

    Add to this, the fact that the place is tinder dry precisely because of the preceding 12 years of extreme drought AND the cutbacks to brush clearing and back-burning ("green" policies are an excuse for councils and state governments spending less $$$ - just like every other service they've cut), and you've got the "perfect (fire) storm" conditions we had on Black Saturday.

    Given that climate change isn't going away, and that all the models indicate SE Australia will get drier and hotter, and given that governments aren't going to be increasing spending in this area any time soon (OK - maybe they'll be shamed into doing something for a couple of years before the new programmes get cut back again), it is HIGHLY LIKELY that this sort of thing will become a frequent occurrence (say every 2-3 years somewhere in SA, VIC, NSW).

    By the way, NASA have a fantastic pic showing how anomalous the heatwave leading up to Black Saturday was against recent summer averages:
    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=36900 [nasa.gov]

    Of course, while we were burning down south, the banana benders up north were setting new records for floods.

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