Meteorologists are predicting a hot, dry summer over the 2023-24 season, with a significantly increased risk of bushfires. A Northern Beaches community forum, with a panel of experts to discuss the implications and how to prepare and respond, will take place next week, 10 October.
On Tuesday 19 September, when maximum temperatures in Sydney and other parts of NSW reached the mid 30s, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) announced in their weekly Climate Driver Update that an “El Niño event” was under way.
Put simply BOM’s 36-page illustrated report confidently predicts we can expect “warmer and drier conditions for much of Australia over the next three months.”
El Niño and La Niña
El Niño, like its opposite, La Niña (which translate respectively from Spanish as The Boy and The Girl), are cyclical events that bring dramatic climatic changes. For a very basic explanation, they are characterised by a combination of cooler or warmer Pacific Ocean currents and winds.
The disruptive pair, known to meteorologists as ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation index) alternate pendulum-like with a neutral phase in between, bringing either increased rainfall and cooler temperatures (La Niña) or soaring heat that may lead to droughts and spark bushfires (El Niño).
At a media conference to publicise the announcement, BOM also revealed that El Niño, which occurs on average every three to eight years, has this year coincided with a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).
The latter, when warmer sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean affect rainfall and temperature patterns, is also a driver for more extreme weather events across Australia. In combination, the duo raise the prospect of severe bushfires.
At the same time as BOM gave the weather warning, parts of the NSW far South Coast from the Pacific Ocean to the A.C.T. border were put on high alert as the official fire danger rating was upgraded to ‘catastrophic’.
Over 20 schools in the region were closed, from Pambula in the south, west to Candelo, then northwards through the famous Bega dairy district and the Biamanga National Park up to Cobargo, and around Batemans Bay.
By late afternoon, the Rural Fire Service Fires Near Me webpage listed 54 active grass or forest fires all along the NSW east coast, plus an additional 20 hazard-reduction burns (ie, controlled and deliberately lit fires to reduce natural fuel).
These were being confronted by over 500 firefighters, with around 13 of the bushfires burning uncontrollably. Yet less than three weeks of spring had elapsed, with summer several months away.
The Rural Fire Service of NSW (RFS) website has a number of guides including a 4-part Bushfire Survival Plan that can be downloaded, printed and attached to a prominent place (like a fridge or household noticeboard) to be better informed.
The four steps include:
- DISCUSS WHAT TO DO IF A BUSH FIRE THREATENS YOUR HOME
- PREPARE YOUR HOME AND GET IT READY FOR BUSH FIRES
- KNOW THE BUSH FIRE ALERT LEVELS
- KEEP ALL THE BUSH FIRE INFORMATION NUMBERS, WEBSITES AND THE SMARTPHONE APP
Most bushfire awareness involves common sense (eg not letting dead leaves pile up around your house or on the roof) and the information on safety (such as leaving an area in advance of an approaching fire) is publicly accessible.
But do you know the following:
* How far hot cinders can be carried on the wind before they land and start spot bushfires elsewhere?
* How wide are the recommended foliage clearance zones around houses that back onto the bush?
* Which trees are vulnerable to exploding when subject to extreme heat (eg native blue gums)?
* Should you remain in a car if you encounter a fast-moving grass fire that will pass over the vehicle?
* After a bushfire has passed through an area, how long is it best to avoid walking through that scorched woodland to avoid possible flare-ups, and when might the burnt trees be safe to touch again?
A bushfire safety awareness event is where you’ll find the answers…
Bushfire awareness evening
Following on from a recent NSW Rural Fire Service Get Ready for Bushfire Season awareness weekend on 16-17 September, on Tuesday 10 October, a free public event, Fire and the Forest, will be held at Glen St Theatre in Belrose.
Running from 7pm – 9pm, the community forum features three expert panellists to discuss how to prepare your home, business and community for bushfires this summer.
Hosted by Mackellar MP Dr Sophie Scamps, the experts addressing this event include Greg Mullins, former Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW); Dr Simon Bradshaw, author and Research Director at the Climate Council independent research charity; and Tim Buckley, member of the Climate Energy Alliance and former Australasian Director of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
There will also be information stalls provided by specialist, integrated organisations
Fire and Rescue NSW, Red Cross, Rural Fire Service, State Emergency Service NSW, and Sydney Wildlife Rescue.
REGISTRATIONS ARE ESSENTIAL as capacity is limited.
Event details: https://www.sophiescamps.com.au/fire_and_the_forest_20231010
10 October 7pm – 9pm, Glen Street Theatre (Corner Glen St and Blackbutts Road, Belrose).
RFS Bushfire Survival Plan https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/plan-and-prepare/bush-fire-survival-plan
Fires Near Me warnings: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/fire-information/fires-near-me