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Australian Busfires

Brr... That's awful... And these pyrocumuluses were kind of scary either... I would like those if they were cumulus congestuses, but pyrocumuluses indicate that something could be very wrong...
 
What's so unique about this fire season? Just like the American west I thought this was a fairly regular occurence, especially during El Nino.
 
The MODIS sat picture below shows clearly how the smoke PyroCu in the Wollemi National Park fired off Newcastle's storms. We often hear og storms generated by Bushfires, but proof is rare. The storms were very electric with numerous CG's

The appears to be displacement between the fire and first CU, but winds were blowing 30-40 knots

221106a_t.jpg


Full Satellite picture is at

http://rapidfire.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/subsets/?Australia6/2006326/Australia6.2006326.aqua.1km.jpg
 
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How did these fires start? Was it lightning or human? How far from the Sydney suburbs are the fires? Is it fire season already or is this early?

I'm actually very interested in the story. Australia happens to be one of my most favorite countries. Australian headlines are rarely in the news here.
 
The Blue Mountains fire just west of Sydney has been burning for over a week before Wednesday. Unsure as to how it started, but it was in inaccessible country. A wind change on Wednesday night allowed firefighters to place in a backburn with a 20 mile face - very large, but it did save towns. The fire is still burning with cooler weather today, but next week we will again be under hot NW winds, supported by upper ridging and dry winds - thickness expected to go towards 580.

The fire west of Newcastle was lightning started by storms earlier in the week I believe. It is also in inaccessible country and is still burning. No Sydney suburbs are in immediate threat, although next week agin may be different. One saving grace is that much of area has been burnt in the last few years.

It is Fire season, but unusual to have several bad year strung together like we have had since about 2000.

The other downside is our storm season, which at the best of times is nothing like the midwest, is very poor. I have been chasing since the 1970's and cannot remember a season so poor.
 
Streaming Audio from Australia?

Michael,

Do you know of any sources for streaming audio either from local commercial radio stations near the fire, ham radio operations in the area, or from scanner enthusiasts who are streaming audio of the fire fighter's communications?

Streaming audio from Radio Australia is available through the following URL:

http://www.abc.net.au/ra/

You can subscribe to podcasts from Radio Australia via the following URL:

http://www.abc.net.au/ra/asiapac/mp3/
 
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The focus of the fire situation in SE Australia has moved from the Blue Mountains west of Sydney to NE Victoria. This area has had little rain over winter ( normal wet season ) and now coming into summer the drought situation is dire. Several fires erupted over the past two weeks, but have now merged into larger fires that are out of control.

Dewpoints in the area have been at extraordinary low levels, on Wednesday the small city of Bendigo was a little over 30C, with a -30C dewpoint.
The two MODIS satellite pictures show the difference that 15 months makes, the first was taken in Winter 2005, probably the last time the area was green. The second picture was taken yesterday. The pall of smoke is over 1000kms in length. To give you some idea of the scale, Sydney is located about 3/4 of the way up the coast in the winter photo - you can see the yellow urban area clearly. Melbourne is located at the head of the bay at the bottom left of the picture. By road the distance between the two cities is over 1000kms.










winter2005.jpg





summer2006.jpg
 
Hi Michael et al,

Most if not all fires this season have been started by lightning. To me it has been the spread over so many weeks of lightning activity that has started so many bushfires.

The factors are obviously as one suggested El Nino though let's take it one step further! We have not had a La Nina for so many years - some places have not had respite from an extended series of drought for about 14 years.

What makes this season different is that there also was a severe cold outbreak. Snow in November is uncommon in Australia except at very high altitudes (relatively). The resulting frost killed vast areas of vegetation. It is now so dry that even grass could ignite very quickly. It will remain a very scary situation until ample widespread rainfall occurs.

Regards,

Jimmy Deguara
 
What type of landscape are these fires burning in? Can't speak for the Australian landscape, however I remember an Ecology class in which we discussed fire ecology and I found it quite interesting. A lot of what we covered was news to me, and I think would be too many people. While most folks know that fire has always been an important part of the earth’s landscape; I don't think enough people know how strong and important its impact was or still is. Also its quite shocking the impact we as humans have had on the way fire behaves and affects the landscape. Here in the US large crown fires in the Rookies and Boundary water areas have been successfully managed and continue to replenish the landscape near their historical rate; however in the US where the largest change in fire behavior has occurred is in the SW, which I assume could possibly be compared to much of the landscape being burned in the Australian fires. Fires in this region used to occur almost yearly however long about the late 1800's the introduction of grazing prevented fires from occurring/spreading, this has limited the frequency of fires, instead of frequent fires that only burnt the ground level, the area now experiences less frequent but large crown fires. These crown fires are important if not required in the dense forest regions of more northern latitudes as the trees are adapted and seeds are able to survive extreme crown fires, some species even require fire to reproduce; however the crown fires in the SW are not only devastating due to their human impacts they are also destructive to the landscape as the trees in the area are not adapt to these type of fires and have a hard time recovering after a fire.
 
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The fires are burning in dense ecalyotus forest, if you compare the two photos you can see not far from the snowlines in many cases.

Jimmy is correct about the long term deficit in rainfall. We have had 5 years of water use restrictions in my city.

Inland lakes are slowly drying or in some cases have dried completely over the past decade.

My own area is a fire timebomb waiting to explode. There are many areas that have not had wildfire since 1969 ( when the nuns had us praying in the schoolyard for devine intervention ).

Dustin: you are very correct in your reply, similar arguments occur here, most frequently over National Parks were there has been resistance to actually managing natural fires in cooler months. The altimate result occurred about 5 years in the national park near Sydney, smaller fires were always controlled and put out, burning off discouraged. When fire did finally get hold it was far more intense than should be normal, burning everything from tree top to bare rock. in some cases the eucalyptus trees were killed - a species that actually requires fire in many cases to survive.
 
I had to visit Melbourne over the weekend and on the way back saw the fires from the plane, Plane was a 21,000ft at time.
The fires at present are less threatening due to cooler temperatures and lighter winds over the weekend, however this is only the beginning of summer and there will be more hot and windy days to come before this emergency is over.
The first photo was taken looking E/SE ,about 150km north of Melbourne. There are several fire fronts visible, the most distant had a small bubble of pyro-cumulus. The 5th which was just out of frame (second picture) was one that flew almost directly over. The is fire is near Mt Buffalo ( the rocky bits ), a ski resort - that this past winter had almost no snow the entire season. You can also see that this fire is near farmland, although the worst winds N/NW should they develop later this week would blow it back.
These fires were not the largest in the complex, those were in the smoke soup about 100-150km further SE.

Images click to larger pictures.



 
There must be a great amount of fuel (brush) out where those pyro-cumulus clouds were taken. I dont recall ever seeing a pyro-cumulus that big before. Having Grown up in Southern California we would get many brush fires from Lightning and on many occasions arson and with the fuel of the Santa Ana winds the fires easily grew very big. However I dont recall ever seeing pyro-cumulus that big.

Good Luck to you Micheal and I hope your neighborhood is safe throughout your Climates fire season.

Keep us updated...

Sincerely: Gerrit
 
Compared to the pyrocumulus last week these were not even pimples. The forecast until Christmas is looking like staying away from a major invasion of hot dry air from the interior, in fact models are toying with a significant vold front for Christmas Day, perhaps even a dusting of snow on Tasmania's peaks.
 
White Christmas eases fire threat

In a bizarre twist the fire menace in Victoria has been eased by a very cold Christmas Day with conditions that saw rain, hail, thunder and even snow in areas over 1500m. In some areas the falls were the deepest all year!

Snow on Christmas day in Australia's highlands is obviously rare, but not without precedence.

Melbourne, Australia's second largest city saw temperatures struggle to reach 14.5C (58F).

Normal conditions and even summery thunder should return by the New Years weekend.
 
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