Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Bushfire researchers predict hostile season -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

ELEANOR HALL: Bushfire researchers have issued a warning to emergency authorities about this year's bushfire season.

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre says there is an above average likelihood of fires and that the forecast is complex.

Richard Thornton is attending the centre's hazards research forum in Adelaide.

He spoke to Stephanie Corsetti.

RICHARD THORNTON: It is a key talking point, because as we're getting into spring and the fire outlooks become a critical point for the discussions around how do we prepare for the coming season.

STEPHANIE CORSETTI: And how is the strengthening El Nino and the Indian Ocean warming effect change the fire risk in Australia, if at all?

RICHARD THORNTON: It's a complex mix this year, one of the things that is really important. Why we get the research involved in this, is trying to understand the two drivers: we've got a strengthening El Nino, which typically would drive warmer, dryer conditions, but as you mentioned, the Indian Ocean surface temperatures are higher at the moment, which tends to drive the opposite - so wetter and cooler.

So in the longer term it will be which one of those wins out in the coming season. It will be something we need to keep an eye on and watch over the coming months, to see which one is going to win.

STEPHANIE CORSETTI: And with the below average rainfall recorded and above average temperatures in some areas, even with heat records, is that making parts of Australia particularly dry and therefore vulnerable to fire?

RICHARD THORNTON: Yes we've got a long term deficit of rainfall over the last 10 years in a lot of the areas, particularly on the east coast and forested regions. But also in the south west forested regions in WA as well. So that's what's driving in this outlook above normal fire risk this year.

STEPHANIE CORSETTI: And how much will rain fall and temperatures in the coming spring months play a role in the outlook?

RICHARD THORNTON: That will always have an impact on when the fire season starts and indeed if fires start at all. It won't, unless we get some really significant and very wet spring and lead into summer, it won't be enough to be able get over that whole 10 years of rainfall deficit.

So it will have an impact locally, wherever it happens, and it will probably delay the start of the fire season. As the recent floods for example in New South Wales will impact a bit on the start of the fire season in some of those regions, but more generally it won't impact on the relative risks.

STEPHANIE CORSETTI: And the outlook notes the challenges emergency services and fire agencies face with the demanding fire season, is that a particular worry for this summer?

RICHARD THORNTON: It's a challenge every year because one of the things that we measure when we bring together the various aspects, so we bring together the climate and the future weather outputs from the bureau. We sit down with the fire agencies and look at the fuel loads and the prescribed burning that's been done. And then we look at resource availability, which is what you mention there. And some of that is to what degree, if you have a series of fires start, are you going to need it to bring in resources from outside of the area, either from other places in the state or other jurisdictions in different states and territories.

So that's taken into account when we say that some of these areas are above normal, because if it's a bad fire season, then you're going to be stretching your resources and you're going to have to move people around.

STEPHANIE CORSETTI: And in the conference today, has there been some discussion about technology and how forecasting and predictions can be enhanced in the future?

RICHARD THORNTON: Yes there's streams of work looking at, for example, the fire weather and fire behaviour and what can be done to get better predictions, particularly at the very, very severe fires, like Black Saturday and those types of fires.

We've just heard from the chief defence scientists about some the technologies that defence have got available and that they're keen to work with the cooperative research centre to try and use some of those technologies to try and get a better picture of what's happening in the landscape.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Richard Thornton ending Stephanie Corsetti's report.