Bushfire outlook 2016: Above normal risk in large sections of Australia

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC) has released its annual outlook for Australia’s upcoming bushfire season, signalling above average bushfire risk across large parts of New South Wales, Victoria, Northern Queensland and the west coast of Western Australia.

The outlook is developed by an assortment of fire and land managers, climatologists and meteorologists.

Average measurements for the last twelve months to July have been 1.33°C above the 1961-1990 average, the largest above-average trend for any twelve-month period since records began in 1910. Despite various cold spells, the Australian winter has been 0.9°C higher than average.

Above-average sea surface temperatures surrounding Australia have increased levels of rainfall throughout winter, which may delay the onset of the bushfire season until early summer. However, this high rainfall in the cooler months combined with ongoing record heat can produce conducive conditions for damaging bushfires.

The continuation of climate patterns over the Indian and eastern Pacific Oceans which are usually conducive to both higher rainfall and lower temperatures, are instead likely to produce above-average temperatures – with summer-like temperatures to start earlier than the historical norm.

Australia’s previous southern fire season was the 14th consecutive season with warmer than average conditions, temperatures which have historically increased the risk of severe bushfires. This is set to continue.

Above average temperatures and rainfall have increased levels of vegetation in much of southern and eastern Australia. Of most concern, is a large inland section of New South Wales that has seen increased levels of grasses and vegetation due to above average winter rainfall and warmer temperatures. With expected above-average summer heat, the potential risk of bushfires is particularly heightened in this region.

To find out more about the impact of climate change on bushfires check out our report: The Burning Issue: Climate Change and the Australian Bushfire Threat.

Preview image credit: Atmospheric Research via CSIRO Image Library