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MELBOURNE, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Australia’s bushfire-stricken state of Queensland saw heavy rainfalls on Sunday dampening some of the fires that have razed 2.5 million hectares (1.2 million acres) of land since September, but the wet weather caused major flooding.
Some areas received a quarter of the annual average rainfall, according to Reuters’ calculations, with the state’s Bureau of Meteorology saying coastal areas experienced up to 160 millimetres (6.3 inches) of rain in the 24-hour period to 9 a.m. on Sunday.
„More rain expected over the coming days,” the bureau said on Twitter.
Several people were rescued from floodwaters and some bridges and causeways were closed, but no severe damage had been reported.
Recent rains across drought-hit Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales states have substantially dampened many of the hundreds of bushfires that have burnt an area nearly the size of Greece and killed 33 people and millions of animals since September.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry)
Since then, global temperatures have steadily increased and the continent has become drier, leading Yeo to worry about a Black Saturday redux. Climate change has long promised enormous, diffuse effects, although imagining how it will play out in our lives has always been difficult. The fires in Australia are a case study, an augur of what’s coming for everyone, not just of cataclysmic horror but also a grinding low-grade drag on daily life—the burden of having to constantly think about the peculiarities and consequences of the weather.
In Australia’s eastern cities, smoke from the fires sent the air-pollution index off the charts, and people who are normally unaffected by rural events found themselves gasping on city streets. I live in Melbourne, the Victorian capital, and a city relatively far from the fires, and the smoke here was omnipresent and eerie. It obscured city buildings and settled in my local park like a fog.
During the Australian Open, held in Melbourne, the Slovenian tennis player Dalila Jakupović fell to the ground coughing and had to abandon her match. Other players have also needed medical relief, prompting climate scientists to call for the Open to move to a cooler season. This is a relatively small consequence given that people and animals are dying. Yet it is an example of the pervasive impact of climate change. Adjusting the global tennis calendar would affect athletes, fans, and tourism operators worldwide.
The Australian tourism and airline industries have already lost billions of dollars as overseas visitors canceled trips and pilots of commuter flights found they could not land because conditions were too dangerous. I flew into Sydney on one of the bad days, and the smell of smoke inside the plane, still hundreds of meters in the air, was so intense that the pilot made an announcement reassuring travelers that it came from the bushfires, not the aircraft.
Because of the fires, we in Australia have become more attuned to the weather—specifically, fire weather, the extremely high temperatures and hot, dry winds that can bring a disaster. Yeo told me that 10 years ago, no one but meteorologists knew much about pyrocumulus clouds, the apocalyptic-looking clouds that occur when an enormous fire generates its own convection column. Now journalists ask her questions about them, and people mention them on social media.
Yeo told me she had nightmares for a long time after the Black Saturday fires, and not many people really understand the pressures of trying to predict this type of weather in real time, as the bush is burning. Her work has the potential to save towns and moms and children and koalas and endangered species and entire ecosystems.
Yeo and her colleagues knew this fire season had the potential to be disastrous: Drought affected a huge area of the east coast, and dry lightning was pervasive. Her data showed it, but she told me that it’s human nature to hope a calamity like these megafires won’t happen. Now there’s no denying these weather extremes will only continue; we’ve crossed a line from talking about climate change to living in it.
Last night in Melbourne, the sky was unrecognizably red and heavy, and this morning when I walked out the door, brown dust from hundreds of miles away covered the steps and the cars and the road.
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