Disasters & Accidents

Extreme fire danger forces more than 20 schools shut in Australia

Update 1: Expands on arrival of El Nino phenomenon

Sydney, Australia, Sep 19 (EFE).- Extreme heat in southeastern Australia forced the Tuesday closure of more than 20 schools, as regional authorities issued a total ban on lighting open-air fires for fear of a repeat of the catastrophic blazes of 2019-2020.

This heat wave, which began last weekend and is expected to last until Wednesday, will cause temperatures to soar from Tuesday in Sydney and other locations in the state of New South Wales, up to 35C.

Current heat conditions, which are 18C higher than the country’s average September temperatures, have already caused more than 60 forest fires in this area, of which 13 are burning out of control.

One of the most vulnerable areas is the Far South Coast, which covers an area of 14,230sqkms, equivalent to almost half of Belgium.

The New South Wales ministry education ordered some 3,000 schoolchildren to stay at home following the Tuesday school closures due to the risk of fires.

New South Wales faces “the worst danger” of catastrophe since the “Black Summer fires” of 2019-2020, which killed 33 people, burned some 24 million hectares in eastern Australia and affected some 3 billion animals, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Bob Rogers told Australian public broadcaster ABC.

Authorities said the heat wave would move in the coming days to the neighboring region of Queensland – where two forest fires are currently recorded – the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Experts also said Australia could face rising temperatures and unusually dry weather this year due to El Nino, a natural weather phenomenon caused by currents in the Pacific Ocean that, exacerbated by the climate crisis, could lead to devastating fires.

The country’ meteorological office officially declared Tuesday the formation of the El Nino and said it expects it to cause an increase in temperatures and less rain in the country until February.

On its Facebook page, the Meteorology Bureau said El Nino, caused by a change in temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, “increases the risk of extreme temperature changes such as heat waves and hotter days.”

The agency said it would probably last until February and that this phenomenon, which occurs periodically every two to seven years, normally causes less rain in the east and hotter days throughout the country, except in the extreme north.

El Nino will be accompanied by another natural phenomenon, the Indian Ocean dipole, which causes less rain in central and southeastern Australia.

The bureau, which officially declared El Nino later than other countries, recorded its hottest southern summer this year since it began recording temperatures in 1910.

On July 4, the World Meteorological Organization said the phenomenon – which normally causes increases in global temperatures and harmful weather patterns – was occurring for the first time in seven years.

El Nino, named in Peru as it is related to the Christmas season, occurs when the central and eastern parts of the tropical Pacific Ocean warm, which usually causes more rainfall in some areas of South America and droughts in Australia and the Southeast Asia, among other effects.

The opposite phenomenon is La Nina, which involves the cooling of the central and eastern parts of the tropical Pacific and generates more humidity in areas such as Australia, Southeast Asia and northeastern Brazil and dryness in parts of Argentina, the coast of Ecuador and the northwest of Peru. EFE


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