Australian Wildfire Latest

By Paul Homewood


We now have full annual weather data from the Australian BOM for last year, so we can update matters.


First of all, a couple of useful charts from the Telegraph. The first shows the distribution of fires, which seem to be mainly clustered along the coast in NSW and in northern Queensland:



The second chart compares the number of fatalities and hectares with historical fires.

What is immediately apparent is that death tolls were regularly much greater in the past. The current death toll, we are told, is 18.

Whilst this crop of fires seems to have affected a greater area, we cannot be certain that previous fires, particularly pre war, were accurately measured. Presumably many outback ones were just ignored and left to burn.

According to the Telegraph, the current fires have affected 5.9m hectares, or 59,000 km2. While they claim this is three times the size of Wales, we need to remember that Australia is more than 30 times the size of the UK. 59,000 km2 represents 0.77% of Australia’s area, which in UK terms would be about 1800 km2, equivalent to three times the size of the New Forest.


Now we can look at the rainfall data for Australia as a whole from BOM:


The black line is the 5-year running average.

It does not need a statistician to see that the claim that the current drought is due to, or exacerbated by, climate change is absurd. Clearly Australia as a whole has become wetter as the climate has warmed. The year just finished may be the driest on record, but statistically is an outlier.

But national figures can hide regional variations, so what about NSW, where the fires have been worst?

Again we find a similar picture. Last year is the driest on record, but the climate generally speaking has been much wetter since the 1940s.





Drought maps from BOM also suggest that, for most of NSW, this has not been a record drought:


Certainly the area either side of the Queensland border shows the lowest rainfall on record, but most of the state has seen periods before with lower rainfall.

Also note that worst fires seem to be clustered towards the Victoria border, where rainfall deficiency has been less severe.

Finally it is worth revisiting the rainfall trend map. It shows that since 1900, most of the country has been getting wetter, with the exception of a small part of Queensland, and some coastal areas of Western Australia and southern Australia along with Tasmania:



I can see absolutely no evidence in any of the above data to suggest that droughts in Australia are becoming more severe or widespread.


January 3, 2020 at 12:24PM

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