September 19, 2023

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El Nino is here: Bureau declares hot, dry weather pattern is under way

By Nick O’Malley

The Bureau of Meteorology has finally declared that an El Nino weather pattern is under way, increasing the likelihood of a hot and dry summer for Australia as global weather records tumble.

The declaration comes as cloudless skies over the continent, which are typical of El Nino conditions, have seen high temperatures develop inland and flow towards the east coast, where early spring heat records have been shattered.

El Nino, which increases the chance of hotter days and dry conditions, is here.Credit: Brook Mitchell

The El Nino declaration follows those already made by the US Climate Prediction Centre, the United Nations World Meteorological organisation and the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The bureau’s criteria for declaring an El Nino includes measurements of sea surface temperature in parts of the Pacific Ocean and the direction and strength of trade winds.

The winds typically blow from east to west across the Pacific. During El Nino, the winds weaken, leading to less moisture in the air around Australia, reduced rainfall and higher temperatures.

Here’s what the bureau’s national manager of climate services, Dr Karl Braganza, said this afternoon:

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‘It turned from mud to concrete’: Farmers already in the thick of El Nino

Farmers are feeling the heat from El Nino, with some producers already in drought.

The weather pattern, declared on Tuesday afternoon, is expected to deliver warmer, drier conditions across eastern Australia, and parts of NSW are already drought-declared.

Peter Lake, who farms near Grafton on the NSW north coast, is experiencing drought conditions after battling floods 12 months ago.

Farmland ravaged by drought in 2019.Credit: Janie Barrett

“It turned from mud to concrete in a couple of weeks and suddenly everything was just dry. From flood to drought, climate change is making the changes more extreme,” Lake said.

Charity Rural Aid reported a 240 per cent spike over the past four months in demand for emergency drinking water from producers.

“The declaration is a formalisation of what they’re already living and experiencing and managing against,” John Walters from Rural Aid said. “The spike in fodder and water requests reflect the dry conditions.”

Queensland grain and cattle farmer Pete Mailler said he’s been preparing for an El Nino event for months, while other farmers have already been destocking.

“I changed crop selections and am busy fencing to make smaller paddocks to better manage our pastures,” he said.

“We’ve already been proactively managing for an El Nino this year, we expect a hotter and dryer spring and summer, we can’t afford to wait for the BoM to make their announcement to begin preparing.”

Sunshine Coast farmer Mick Dan wanted more support for farmers in times of need.

“We will be okay this summer, but if it’s a protracted El Nino event we will start to suffer.”



ANU ramping up security after stabbing

By Angus Thompson and Natassia Chrysanthos

Australian National University will ramp up security after a young man who was known to police faced court on attempted murder charges for allegedly stabbing two female students with a knife and attacking two other men, including with a frying pan.

The ACT’s police union is demanding answers from the territory government over the incident, as detectives probe how accused man Alex Ophel came to be at the Canberra campus on Monday afternoon when he allegedly attacked the international and domestic students.

Deputy vice chancellor Professor Sally Wheeler said campus security would be ramped up at ANU.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

ANU deputy vice chancellor Sally Wheeler said the university wasn’t aware of any threat to its community before the alleged stabbings, and that the institution was now boosting security patrols around the campus as a result of the incident.

“The university has a wide range of measures in place to ensure our community’s safety,” Wheeler said. “We have comprehensive security infrastructure and processes in place, including cameras, [safety] officers, patrols, lighting, emergency phones and contact points. Today, we are ramping this up in the light of yesterday’s events.”

She described it as “an isolated and extremely rare event” that was over within 30 minutes, thanks to the swift response of emergency and security services.

Read the full story.


Albanese, Dutton condemn protesters who called senator a ‘racist dog’

By Paul Sakkal

Returning to politics, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called for respectful debate after footage emerged of protesters calling Liberal senator Alex Antic a “racist dog” as he entered an event on Monday headlined by Coalition Indigenous Australians spokeswoman Jacinta Nampijinpa Price.

Antic posted footage on Twitter showing a small group of protesters yelling at him as he entered the No event in Adelaide.

Albanese said he “condemned nasty behaviour wherever it occurs”, while Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the vision was disturbing.

Albanese added: “Of course some of the tone of the debate has been unfortunate. That’s the truth. What I would say to people is be respectful. I respect every Australian regardless of whether they’re going to vote Yes or whether they’re going to No.”


How El Nino heat has already wreaked havoc

By Nick O’Malley

On balance, the average temperature of the entire planet rises during El Nino events as warm ocean water wells up off the coast of South America and into the central Pacific.

Many weather agencies had already called an El Nino event as global heat records snapped and ocean temperatures spiked earlier this year.

Antarctica is rapidly losing sea ice.Credit: Samantha Crimmin / Alamy Stock Photo

The northern hemisphere suffered through its hottest summer in history, thought to have been accelerated by an increase in the average global temperature caused by climate change.

Global temperatures have contributed to unprecedented wildfires in Canada and Hawaii, heatwaves across Europe, catastrophic flooding in Libya and a collapse in sea ice coverage in the Antarctic.

In its statement the Bureau of Meteorology said that, in August, sea surface temperatures were the warmest globally for any month since observational records began in 1850, and that July and August 2023 were also respectively the hottest and second-hottest months globally in terms of two-metre air temperature.

Australia’s climate has warmed by an average of 1.48 degrees since national records began in 1910.


‘Prepare for a summer of heat and fire hazards’: Bureau

By Angus Dalton

In declaring an El Nino event, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Dr Karl Braganza warned Australians to brace for extreme heat and bushfires.

“These climate drivers have a significant influence on the Australian climate, in particular favouring warmer and drier conditions,” Braganza said. “Those conditions are associated or accompanied by an increase in fire danger and extreme heat risk.”

A helicopter drops water on the Wallacia fire near Sydney’s south-west.Credit: Wolter Peeters

“It’s really up to individuals and communities now to prepare for a summer of heat and fire hazards.”

He added conditions were different leading up to Black Summer’s catastrophic fires, which were preceded by years of drought. The landscape is relatively wet after three years of high rainfall, although the sodden vegetation is drying out more rapidly than previous years.


Despite the rapid drying, CSIRO research scientist Dr Nandini Ramesh said the years of rain could work in firefighters’ favour.

“Three rainy La Ni?a years have provided us with a buffer against drought, with soil moisture and reservoir levels still high,” Ramesh said.

“While the risk of fire weather is higher and preparedness is crucial, this buffer means that we are not necessarily guaranteed a catastrophic fire season this year.”

Experts are urging people to use the El Nino declaration as a chance to review and practise their bushfire survival plans.


What does ‘the little boy’ mean for summer? El Nino explained

By Angus Dalton and Laura Chung

What’s an El Nino, what effect does it have on Australia, and what gives with the Spanish name?


An El Nino is an oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon that temporarily disrupts the status quo of the Pacific Ocean.

The normally cold waters off South America warm up, causing more rain off its coast. The waters off Australia get colder, so there’s less moisture in the air, less average rainfall and a greater chance of hot temperatures and, potentially, fires.

El Nino events are part of a bigger climate pattern called the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

Nine of south-east Australia’s 10 driest winter-spring periods were during El Nino events.

Keen to learn more? Read our explainer now (no Duolingo required).


Dry weather double-whammy: Positive IOD pattern also announced

By Angus Dalton

As well as declaring an El Nino event, the Bureau of Meteorology has announced the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) has switched to its positive phase.

The IOD has a similar drying effect on Australia to El Nino, especially across the continent’s south and east. The bureau said the weather pattern can have a particularly strong effect in reducing rainfall across Victoria.

The combination of the two rainfall-reducing, heat-summoning weather patterns will make summer hotter and drier.

Bushfire smoke rises in Sydney as the Bureau of Meteorology warns of hot, dry conditions brought by El Nino.Credit: Wolter Peeters

“When these two things occur together, it can increase rainfall deficiencies over spring,” Dr Karl Braganza, the bureau’s national manager of climate services, said.

“We are already seeing extreme conditions in some parts of the continent. Today we’ve had catastrophic conditions on the south coast of NSW, just to underscore that risk.”


School closures ‘concerning’ as firefighters descend on NSW south coast

By Caroline Schelle and Angus Dalton

The head of Save the Children Australia says it’s concerning there are school closures in NSW due to extreme fire danger which can have a “far-reaching consequences” for children.

It comes as a catastrophic fire warning has been issued for the state’s far south coast, as 61 fires burn around NSW.

“It’s concerning that we are already seeing school closures in NSW due to extreme fire danger this early in the year,” the charity’s chief executive Mat Tinkler said.

“With the bushfire risk only set to increase as we head into a predicted scorching summer, Australians will be bracing for significant impacts on children’s wellbeing and access to education.”

He said many families in the warning areas also endured the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-2020.


“[They] are now having to react once again to a dangerous fire season. We know that climate-fuelled disasters can have far-reaching consequences for children.”

He said that children’s voices should be at the centre of climate policies.

Firefighters have gained the upper hand in controlling a small bushfire that flared in Eden, on NSW’s south coast, and threatened homes this afternoon.

The NSW RFS has also issued a “watch and act” warning for a bushfire burning near the border of NSW and Victoria in the Bondi State Forest. No homes are under threat but the fire is moving east towards the Monaro Highway.

In Queensland, authorities have asked residents to stay informed about fires near Townsville and the Sunshine Coast.


Flight Centre boss calls for reversal of Qatar Airways decision

By Amelia McGuire

Flight Centre boss Graham Turner has called on the government to reverse its decision on rejecting Qatar Airways from doubling its flights to Australia if it actually concerned with behaving in the national interest.

“It’s in the government’s interest to reverse the decision and it’s in the national interest. I don’t think there’s any doubt on that,” Turner told the Senate select committee into bilateral air service right agreements.

Flight Centre chief executive Graham “Skroo” Turner is a critic of the government’s decision to reject Qatar Airways’ application for extra flights to Australia.Credit: Dan Peled

Turner, who appeared at the inquiry on behalf of Flight Centre and the Australian Travel Industry Association, of which is he the deputy chair, said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission should have oversight of bilateral air service right agreements.

He also called for more open skies agreements and a review of the slot management scheme at Sydney Airport to reduce domestic flight cancellations across the country.

Turner also faced intense questioning from Labor senators Linda White and Tony Sheldon over Flight Centre’s treatment of its workforce and customers after COVID-19 as well as its historic price fixing over a period between 2005 and 2009, as exposed by the ACCC in 2018.

“We had billions of dollars to refund to people and we obviously had to get rid of two thirds of our staff during that period, it was a difficult time and we certainly didn’t do everything right,” Turner said.

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