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April 7, 2009 | Greg Holland (ESSL/MMM) took this photo (below) of the devastating February wildfires in Australia. This particular fire threatened his son’s farm near Healesville, about 50 miles northeast of Melbourne.
Scientists stress that no one drought or wildfire can be attributed to global warming; however, the eucalyptus forests and farms of southeastern Australia are becoming drier and more fire prone as the planet warms. The 2007 IPCC report warned that fires in Australia were expected to increase in intensity and frequency.
The upcoming Year of Tropical Convection (YOTC) may help forecasters better predict conditions that create such infernos. YOTC’s goal is to study the massive clusters of showers and thunderstorms that regularly prowl Earth’s low latitudes and influence weather elsewhere. While parts of Victoria, Australia, experienced severe drought and record high temperatures that stoked wildfires, Queensland was dealing with floods that inundated an area larger than Texas.
According to Mitch Moncrieff (ESSL/MMM), who’s helping organize YOTC, these events may be connected. An organized cluster of convection called the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) pushed southward from Indonesia into northern Australia over several weeks in January after gathering strength in the Indian Ocean. Weather systems spawned by the slow moving MJO not only brought heavy rains to Queensland, but may have helped induce drying and subsidence on its southern flank, including around the Melbourne area.