Rain extinguishes Australian wildfires

Australia collectively breathed a sigh of relief as widespread rain has put out a third of the country’s wildfires.

But while this almost seems godsent, it can also cause some other problems. Many parts of the country have not seen this much rain in over a year, and authorities are on alert for flooding.

After the worst bushfire season on record, Australia is finally getting a hand from the weather.

The 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season commenced early, in June 2019. Several uncontrolled fires were reported. Amplified by drought, the fires continued to spread, and by January 2020, fires had burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres). For comparison, the California wildfires burnt 800,000 hectares (2,000,000 acres) and the 2019 Amazon rainforest wildfires burnt 900,000 hectares (2,200,000 acres) of land.

It was the worst bushfire season on record.

Authorities and firemen (both professional and volunteers) put up a tremendous effort to limit the fire, but this was no easy feat. Much of the affected areas had been in drought for three years. The lack of water transformed green plants into perfect fuel for the fire, helping spread the damage. As Australian researchers had predicted for over a decade, higher temperatures were taking a toll.

But after months and months of struggle, there is finally good news. Authorities welcomed what seem to be the strongest rains in over a year.

“This is that constant, steady, decent rainfall that we’ve been praying for for so long,” said NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) spokeswoman Angela Burford.

While some areas are still burning, some of the largest fires have now been put out. Without sustained rain, firefighters were always fighting an uphill battle — now, as areas become increasingly soaked and plants absorb water, there will be increasingly less fuel for the fires, in addition to the direct effect the rain has on wildfires. Torrential rain is rarely appreciated, but in this case, it works great.

A double-edged sword

The rain will bring a welcome improvement in dam water levels, and can also help farmers’ yields. The forecast shows continued rain in much of the country over the coming week.

However, although this is undisputedly good news, meteorologists also warn that some areas are now exposed to a risk of flood.

“For our fire grounds where the landscape is so vulnerable right now, this means the risk of falling trees and landslides, and large volumes of runoff containing debris, including ash, soil, trees and rocks,” BOM meteorologist Adam Morgan said in a video update around midday local time on Friday.

Sydney and the New South Wales Central Coast are set to receive more rainfall in 24 hours than they have received in an entire year. There are already reports of fallen trees and flooding evacuation orders.

This type of intense rain is unusual for this time of year and offers yet another reminder of how much the weather has changed recently.

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