UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing: Australia Wildfires WMO 12NOV2019
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Edited News | UNOG , WMO

UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing: Australia Wildfires WMO 12NOV2019

As Australia’s “catastrophic” and deadly wildfire emergency continues, UN weather experts on Tuesday echoed Government warnings for people to remain vigilant in the face of the fast-moving threat and tinderbox conditions.

In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) noted that dozens of fires are raging in eastern New South Wales and southeast Queensland, amid reports that three people lost their lives in the fires at the weekend.

“Apart from the immediate physical threat…when, you know, authorities issue a message of catastrophic fire danger, the message there is basically, “Get out, get away,’” Clare Nullis, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) told journalists.

Citing Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology description of the situation as “evolving and dangerous”, Ms. Nullis said that conditions were likely to remain dry, with little to no rain forecast.

“The fires are due to a combination of factors including low soil moisture, heat and importantly, wind direction and wind speed,” she explained.

New South Wales has declared a state of emergency as parts of the state - including the Greater Sydney area and Queensland - face a "catastrophic" fire danger - the highest level of warning.

Although bush and grassfires are common in Australia, the emergency is linked to increasingly warm temperatures over the course of the last century.

“According to the Bureau of Meteorology of Australia, it’s been the second warmest January to October on record for Australia as a whole and these are records going back 110 years,” Ms. Nullis said, adding that the number of days falling into the category of “fire weather days” has increased.

“The most extreme 10 per cent of fire weather days - which is how, you know, they measure the fire index - has increased in recent decades across many regions of Australia, especially across Southern and Eastern Australia, there has been an associated increase in the length of the fire weather season and climate change including increasing temperatures is contributing to these changes.”

According to WMO, many at-risk communities face winds of 60 to 80 kilometres per hour (37 to 50 miles per hour) and temperatures in the mid to high 30s Celsius (around 95 Fahrenheit).

Although a cool weather front may ease fire dangers, “a combination of dry and gusty winds and a shift in wind direction will mean people in the impacted areas will need to remain vigilant,” Ms. Nullis insisted.

Between 1967 and 2013, major Australian bushfires resulted in over 8,000 injuries and 433 deaths, close to 50 per cent of all fatalities from major Australian natural disasters, excluding heatwaves, Australian Government figures show. 

Over the same period, bushfires cost approximately $3.2 billion.

 

  1. Exterior shot, Palais des Nations, car passing behind pedestrians taking photographs.
  2. Wide shot, United Nations press room, journalists.
  3. Close-up, journalists.
  4. SOUNDBITE (English) – Clare Nullis, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) spokesperson:“Apart from the immediate physical threat, and when, you know, authorities issue a message of catastrophic fire danger, the message there is basically, “Get out, get away.’”
  5. Close-up, journalist, profile.
  6. SOUNDBITE (English) – Clare Nullis, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) spokesperson:  “According to the Bureau of Meteorology of Australia, it’s been the second warmest January to October on record for Australia as a whole, and these are records going back 110 years.”
  7. Medium shot, journalists.
  8. SOUNDBITE (English) – Clare Nullis, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) spokesperson: “The fires are due to a combination of factors including low soil moisture, heat and importantly, wind direction and wind speed.”
  9. Close-up, journalist’s hands typing on laptop.
  10. SOUNDBITE (English) – Clare Nullis, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) spokesperson:“The most extreme 10 per cent of fire weather days, which is how, you know, they measure the fire index has increased in recent decades across many regions of Australia, especially across Southern and Eastern Australia; there has been an associated increase in the length of the fire weather season and climate change including increasing temperatures is contributing to these changes.”
  11. Medium shot, journalist typing on laptop, spokesperson to rear, journalist in foreground, blurred.
  12. Close-up, journalists’ hands typing on laptops, podium with speakers to rear.
  13. Close-up, journalists in profile.
  14.  

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