Category Archives: drought

Extended period of little or no precipitation

Fort Mc Murray fires and evacuation of city of 80,000 – 3 to 6 May 2016

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The city of Fort Mc Murray lies approximately 56.43 degrees north and 111.22 degrees west in north east Alberta (Canada). Some 80,000 residents live within the municipal region.

The climate features severe cold winters with snow and summers are short due to latitude although it can reach 30C during the short summer season. The highest temperature recorded is 37C on 10 August 1991 while the lowest is minus 50.6C on 1 February 1947.

Rainfall is relatively low at 464.8 mm per year and snow cover is assured during the long cold winter. The bioclimate is generally boreal moist forest which provides some background to the climate of the region.

A wildfire within this region is highly unusual which has caused the evacuation of over 80,000 residents. As seen from NASA'S Terra MODIS satellite, vast plumes of thick smoke casts a shadow across over the region. It appears the worst of the fires is to the east and south east of the urban areas and fires have been fanned by dry southerly winds.

Using the NASA's Worldview system, the fire hot spots have been overlaid across the image to provide a better image of the hot spots.

There is also a separate fire burning north of the Gipsy Lake Wildland Provincial Park. At the time the satellite passed over, a cold front had passed through and winds were north west which would help fire fighters. Conditions are now cooler than that of recent days.

Recent maximum daily temperatures that have occurred are:-

1 May 25C.
2 May 27C.
3 May 33C (This was the day when the fires took hold as seen in media reports).
4 May 32C.
5 May 19C.
6 May 20 (To date).

A forecast top temperature of 27C is being made for May 7 with cooler conditions to come thereafter.

Recent overnight minimum temperatures for the same period are:-

1 May 1C.
2 May 4C.
3 May 11C (The nigh time conditions have been cold).
4 May 10C.
5 May 12C.
6 May 8C.

It can be seen that the minimum temperatures have been somewhat cold during this period which makes this event incredible.

When reviewing rainfall data for February to May, it can be seen that it has been dry. The heaviest rainfall has been 11 mm recorded on April 13 2016. The forest has dried out over recent months and given the right conditions, a fire has taken hold and reached such catastrophic levels.

It appears the worst of the conditions are over as long range forecasts do point to colder conditions and some rainfall which will help to ease the fire situation and assist fire fighters in containing the blazes across the region.


1 - Accuweather - Weather data for Fort Mc Murray for 1 to 6 May 2016.
2 - Fort Mc Murray Alberta Canada Climate data.
3 - NASA (Worldview) TERRA MODIS using fire and hotspot overlays acquired 6/5/2016.

Australia, a land of heat, fires, rain and floods – December 28 2015 to January 3 2016

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The continent of Australia is being heavily impacted by two significant weather events at the same time and this is becoming evident for the period 28 December 2015 to 3 January 2016. In particular, the events are divided into the following:-

1 - Northern Territory and Queensland - Monsoon low causing heavy rain and floods.

2 - South Australia and Victoria - Heatwave and bush fires.

As seen in the satellite photo of Australia acquired from the Bureau of Meteorology dated 28/12/2015, a vast area of northern Australia is under the influence of a deep monsoon low pressure system and a substantial cloud mass.

At the same time, South Australia, southern New South Wales and Victoria is totally clear of cloud. Hot dry weather is leading to new fears of fresh bush fires and current fires flaring again.

The two weather systems are having a dramatic impact at opposite ends of the spectrum.


The chances of a tropical cyclone forming in the Gulf of Carpentaria appears to have lessened as the monsoonal low has moved too far inland. As described in a separate post, a deep monsoon low has dumped more than 600 mm of rain in some areas of Northern Territory during the Christmas period leading to major flooding especially around Daly River. Some 470 residents of Daly River have had to be evacuated to Darwin and flood waters are creating havoc including crocodiles taking home owners pets. There is at least 1 known fatality from the flood event.

A large area of the top end of Northern Territory has been swamped with rain over the past 3 days and while the rain has eased in some areas, the aftermath is the flooding that will take some time to subside.

As seen in the satellite picture of the Northern Territory (MODIS Worldview from NASA and dated 28/12/2015), the monsoon low has moved inland taking the rain with it. The cloud is also spilling into Queensland and heavy rain has also occurred in some parts.

To date the heaviest flooding is across the Top End but south of Darwin.


As seen in the satellite photo of Victoria acquired from NASA MODIS and dated 28/12/2015, much of the state of Victoria is tinder dry. Effectively, the whole state has dried out over the past few weeks and vegetation is ready to burn.

Generally, the only area of green anywhere in south east Australia is the coastal strip of New South Wales including Sydney which is visible in the image. This could suggest that the El Nino Phenomena which usually brings reduced rainfall may not be having significant impact along the coastal strip of New South Wales but further away from the coast, another storey emerges.

In Victoria, a number of fires, recent and current continue to burn or have just been contained including:-

Barnarwartha / Wodonga:- It appears that at least 3 homes have been burnt in a blaze that scorched more than 7,000 hectares.

Wye River and Separation Creek:- At least 116 homes destroyed in a blaze that has scorched some 2,286 hectares. That fire is still not out. The cause appears to have been a lightning strike on December 19.

Scottsburn:- This is near Ballarat where a blaze has scorched some 4,570 hectares. While contained, it is not out.

Fire fighters are nervous because the fires and any other fire could readily flare up as another hot spell to heatwave conditions grip the state. The heat will build across South Australia then extend into western New South Wales and Victoria during the next 6 days. However, it appears that little of the heat will reach the east coast of New South Wales at the present time.

Some maximum temperatures being forecast include:-


Adelaide - Wed (37C), Thurs (38), Fri (38C), Sat (35C), Sun (36C).
Port Augusta - Tue (37), Wed (40C), Thurs (40), Fri (40C), Sat (38C), Sun (38C).
Tarcoola - Tue (38), Wed (41C), Thurs (41), Fri (40C), Sat (39C), Sun (40C).
Woomera - Wed (39C), Thurs (38), Fri (38C), Sat (39C), Sun (37C).


Bendigo - Wed (36C), Thurs (38), Fri (38C).
Mildura - Wed (39C), Thurs (40), Fri (39C), Sat (38C).
Nhill - Wed (38C), Thurs (40), Fri (40C).
Shepparton - Wed (36C), Thurs (38), Fri (38C).

In Melbourne, Thursday appears to be the hottest day where 37C is being forecast.

This generally shows that heatwave conditions are expected to prevail again especially for areas away from the coast.

The above shows the extreme contrast of two weather system occurring at the same time at opposite ends of the Australian continent, both of which are leading to secondary issues and emergency situations. This also shows that Australia is a land of drought and flooding rains, as drought is occurring in one region, while flooding rains is occurring in another.


1 - Bureau of Metorology (Satellite image of Australia) dated 28/12/15.
2 - NASA (MODIS Worldview with Overlays of northern and southern Australia) dated 28/12/2015.

Fires and smoke plumes – Indonesia October 2015

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Every year just prior to the onset of the monsoon across Indonesia, forest fires become relatively common place due to typical farming practises known as "slash and burn agriculture" and or the smouldering of peat underneath soils.

In a normal year, the onset of the monsoon rains during October is usually enough to contain the blazes that are lit.

However much like what occurred during the 1997 El Nino event, a similar regional crises is now emerging following two months of fires across Borneo and Sumatra. A major regional crises across South East Asia is unfolding due to uncontrolled fires burning across large areas of Indonesia, namely Borneo (Kalimantan) and Sumatra.

The practise of slash and burn agriculture where farmers remove forest and burn forest for new agriculture land is partially to blame. Another cause is the smouldering of peat underneath soils. The peat smoulders giving off vast amounts of smoke and very difficult to control.

Following two months of fires, a vast smoke plume that waxes and wanes in size now envelops a number of countries including Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The smoke plumes have also reached Sulawesi at times.

Media reports suggest up to 40 million residents could be affected by the plumes triggering numerous health alerts, air quality alerts and increasing hospital visits. Local media reports suggest more than 500,000 residents have already sought medical help for illness. The plumes have also affected airline flights across the region.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer operated by NASA clearly identifies the fires as red dots or circles and the vast smoke plumes being generated. The worst affected regions are southern Borneo Island (Kalimantan) and south east Sumatra.

The smoke is being carried by winds across a vast region as shown in the attached satellite photos of the region.

The fires this year (2015) is worse due to drier than normal conditions and the impact of El Nino. Should the El Nino effect delay the onset of the rains, then the fires will burn for some time until enough moisture from rainfall replaces the moisture within the soil profiles.

The fires are different to those commonly seen in Australia and current conditions are on track to exceed the event of 1997. Fire fighters from Australia are assisting and among the 22,000 fire fighters who are attempting to put out the blazes.


1 - NASA (Worldview) images and (MODIS) acquired October 14, 21 and 28 2015 including overlays and brief discussions.