The NT’s north is experiencing its worst fire weather conditions it’s seen in more than five years.
- Two poor wet seasons have made conditions tough for firefighters
- Bureau of Meteorology forecasters say this wet season will be wetter than usual
- Hot and humid weather is predicted across the Top End in the next few months
On Thursday, the fire danger reached “catastrophic” levels in Darwin’s rural area. And with the dry weather persisting, Bushfires NT is warning the risk “certainly isn’t over yet”.
Bushfires NT’s assistant director of operations, Joshua Fischer, said in 2019 crews were battling bushfires until December because of a late start to the Northern Territory’s wet season.
He is hoping for an early onset of rain this year to give firefighters some reprieve.
“The danger most certainly isn’t over,” Mr Fischer said.
“Until we start to receive monsoonal rains, we won’t be out of the fire danger.”
So, what’s making the fires so unpredictable? And what can we expect over the next few days?
For the latest bushfire warnings and information, visit the NT Fire Incident map.
How bad are the Top End fires?
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Angeline Prasad said it was “very rare” to declare a catastrophic fire danger in the Northern Territory.
“Just to put it into perspective, the fire danger index which was observed in Batchelor on Thursday last week was 167.1 and that’s catastrophic,” she said.
“Going back to July 2015 and we haven’t seen it that high in the last five years.
The previous record was 143.5 in September 2015, so it is quite rare in the Northern Territory.”
Mr Fischer said the hot, dry and windy conditions in the NT over the past week had made fires difficult to control and hard to predict.
He said Bushfires NT attended about 25 bushfires over the seven-day period.
But even though conditions peaked in the Northern Territory on Thursday, Mr Fischer said Bushfires NT actually attended more blazes last year.
“We are below the number of fires we had in 2019 and we’re also below the number of fire bans so far,” he said.
What’s making fires so unpredictable?
The Northern Territory’s past two wet seasons had below-average amounts of rainfall.
Those drier conditions have worsened the Top End’s current fire conditions.
Mr Fischer said there was no sub-soil moisture and nowhere wet to lead the fires to.
“Where we would normally use wet areas to hold up some of these fires in creek lines to river corridors and flood plains, that’s not a possible scenario,” he said.
And Ms Prasad said an overall “drier and warmer climate” across Australia also had an impact on fire conditions.
“Australia’s temperature has warmed up by about a degree since 1910 — that’s when our records began,” she said.
“And the oceans have also warned up by about a degree since 1910.”
What can we expect in the next week?
Mr Fischer said volunteers and firefighters would remain on standby this week as the dry weather persisted.
“We are likely to see a slight increase in fire weather for tomorrow, being Monday,” he said.
“And that will slowly ease off into Tuesday and Wednesday.”
The UV index will reach an extreme of 12 until at least Wednesday.
Ms Prasad said weather conditions would get more humid across the Top End this week and temperatures would remain above average.
“We will start to see a bit more coastal showers and showers in the top east of the Top End,” she said.
And there may be some fire weather warnings issued over the next few days, but it’s too early to know for sure.
What about in the next few months?
In good news, Bureau of Meteorology forecasters say this wet season is likely to be a lot wetter than the past two — although it will be warmer than average.
Moisture will start to increase in September and October, and there’s a high chance of above-average rainfall across most of the Northern Territory, particularity in the south-west.
The NT’s wet season typically runs from November to April, and the northern fire season runs from April to November.