Australia warns of 'hotter than normal' summer raising fire risk

Prediction comes as forest fires force evacuations in Queensland and country's farmers battle drought.

    A lone tree stands near a water trough in a drought-affected paddock in rural New South Wales in July [David Gray/Reuters]
    A lone tree stands near a water trough in a drought-affected paddock in rural New South Wales in July [David Gray/Reuters]

    Australia's weather agency said the country is likely to see a "hotter than normal" summer that could add to the risk of forest fires and cause alarm for farmers already battling drought.

    The Bureau of Meteorology's manager of long-range forecasting, Andrew Watkins, said the outlook showed most of Australia had an 80 percent chance of exceeding normal temperatures over the next three months.

    "Summer in Australia typically brings hot temperatures for many communities, and the outlook indicates this summer will be no different," Watkins said in a statement as the bureau released its 2018-19 summer outlook.

    "We've already seen extremely hot temperatures through parts of Queensland in recent days and this should act as an important reminder of the kinds of conditions we can get during an Australian summer."

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    About 100 fires are still burning in Queensland, on Australia's northeast coast, and thousands of people have been evacuated.

    The hotter temperatures are likely to be combined with below average rainfall, particularly in Queensland and Western Australia, the statement added.

    But the bureau warned there was also the possibility of localised downpours of the kind that caused flash floods in Sydney this week.

    Vicious drought

    The latest outlook is likely to increase pressure on Australia's farmers, who have been forced to slaughter cattle in record numbers amid a vicious drought that has dried up water sources and left the landscape parched.

    "The industry has been through a tough time already," Phin Ziebell, agribusiness economist at National Australia Bank, told Reuters news agency. "International export demand has prevented a bigger impact, but what happens if this dries up?

    "There is a big downside risk for the cattle industry."

    The forecaster said Australia remains on an El Nino alert, meaning the chance of the weather phenomenon forming in 2018 is 70 percent, roughly triple the normal risk.

    An El Nino typically brings drier and warmer conditions to eastern Australia but the rainfall effects tend to be less pronounced in the south during summer months.

    The bureau will release its analysis of Australia's spring weather on Monday, but preliminary figures show it's likely to be one of the 10 warmest springs on record for the country as a whole.

    It said while there had been above-average rainfall in some parts of the country, Victoria and Tasmania were both likely to have experienced one of the 10 driest springs on record.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies