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Mon Feb 11, 2019, 07:34 AM

Oz Simultaneously Drowning, Baking And Burning; Parts Of Tasmania Not Burned In Centuries On Fire

The people of Townsville know about heavy rain, but this was new. Over the past fortnight, the northern Queensland city’s 180,000 residents have been hit by a monsoon strengthened by a low-pressure front that dragged moist air south from the equator to Australia’s top end. It dumped an unprecedented 1.4 metres of rain in less than two weeks – roughly double what falls on London in a year.


Australia is, of course, no stranger to extreme weather - bushfire, flooding, rains and skin-peeling heat are central to its history and mythology - but the contrasts this southern summer have been particularly stark. Lesley Hughes, a professor of biology at Macquarie University and councillor with publicly funded communication body the Climate Council, says few parts of the continent have not experienced an extreme weather event in recent months. More than 3000 kilometres to Townsville’s south, Tasmania is burning. For the second time in four years, dry lightning strikes sparked a series of blazes on the usually cool, temperate island, many of them in the vast world heritage wilderness area that covers nearly half its territory. In one 30-hour period in mid-January, an extended electrical storm danced across the summer sky, sending down more than 2400 lightning strikes without rain.

About 200,000 hectares - 3% of the state’s surface - has been burned, including unique alpine heath landscapes that had not been touched by fire for centuries. The fires are expected to burn for another month at least. Hundreds of people, many of them from in and around the southern town of Geeveston, spent the best part of two weeks camping at evacuation centres. Six homes were destroyed before rain late in the week reduced the threat to communities.

Elsewhere, communities in the sparsely populated Australian outback continue to deal with the fallout from a long-term drought. On social media, a Greens MP in New South Wales, David Shoebridge, highlighted a constituent forced to pay $70 a week on drinking water for her and her son after the raw water supply in the town of Walgett was turned off. A political battle is also raging over the use of water in the vast Murray-Darling river system that fans across the country’s eastern state agricultural districts, with drought-afflicted downstream communities arguing they are being denied water by a national river plan that did not factor in climate change and has been designed to keep dams full at water-hungry industrial agriculture sites in northern states.



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