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Weekly Weather Event -Week of January 1

January 3, 2020

This article is meant to be a follow up piece to a Weekly Weather Event that was covered back in mid-November. Readers are advised to check more up to date sources as this event progresses.

Since September 2019, fires have been burning throughout Australia. Every state and territory in Australia has been impacted by the fires, but New South Wales continues to be the hardest hit. Mass evacuations are underway as the flames are now threatening Australia’s largest city, Sydney. Authorities are planning for fire conditions to worsen over the weekend due to strong winds and temperatures over 104 F (40 C) in the southeast.

As of January 3, 2020, 19 people have died due to the fires, over 1,200 homes have been razed by the fires, and about 14.5 million acres of land, comparable to the size of West Virginia, have been burned. Along with the human causalities, an estimated half a billion animals have died since September with fears that entire species may have been wiped out in the blazes.

While it is impossible to pin the ongoing disaster on any one specific weather phenomenon, the main drive of Australia’s extreme heat is a weather phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole. Analogous to the Pacific El Niño, the Indian Ocean Dipole refers to the difference in sea-surface temperatures on opposite sides of the Indian Ocean. Warmer than average waters are found to the west, off the coast of Eastern Africa, which bring strong rains and flooding to the region. Cooler than average waters are found to the east, near southeast Asia, and bring periods of drought and warm weather.