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Conflict & Tragedy

Australia's climate extremes: Two 1,000-year floods, droughts and wildfires

In Australia, 2013 is lining up to be a record-breaking year for simultaneous weather extremes involving historic heat waves, decades-long drought across parts of the Australian terrain, the sum of 100 or more wildfires and the second unprecedented flood in two years.

This week, according to CNN coverage, flood waters from torrential rain in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Oswald rapidly swamped areas near the east coast of Queensland with 2 ½ feet of rushing water, catching residents of communities like Bundaberg and Brisbane by surprise.

The floods, which peaked on Tuesday, have killed four people, including a 3-year-old boy, caused the evacuation of countless thousands and forced a hospital to airlift several newborn babies, elderly and critical patients to safety.

More than 2,000 homes in Bundaberg were swamped with water and approximately 7,000 residents fled to higher ground and safer havens. They won’t be able to return to their homes until the water recedes, which could take days.

Experts are calling it a 1,000-year flood and the worst on record, even more devastating than the last 1,000-year flood, which was only two years ago. But that disaster, caused by Cyclone Tasha, was deadlier in the end, killing 35 people.

Occurring simultaneously with the floods are wildfires, most predominately in recent days around the area of Tasmania, where bushfires have been blazing out of control for days. Bushfires sweep rapidly through brush and undergrowth.

While the United States has been experiencing record snowstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes, Australia is in the middle of its summer. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reports that moisture-sucking heat waves have been unprecedented. The heat has never been as intense, widespread or long-lasting as what Australians are currently experiencing. Jan. 7 was the warmest day recorded in 103 years, with the hottest temperature of 118 degrees.

Similarly, 2012 was the hottest year on record in the US, but global warming, which is often considered a misnomer in terms, causes changes in weather patterns due, in part, to melting sea ice and the rise of ocean temperatures. These changing patterns are increasingly causing wildly different and more extreme weather events around the globe.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been directly involved in helping residents that have been displaced by recent flooding and she deployed 100 military personnel to Bundaberg, where the Burnett River peaked at water levels that broke the 1942 record.

In New South Wales, Grafton residents, thought to have escaped the worst of the flood, were also ordered to evacuate in an abundance of caution as the Clarence River rose to new levels. Grafton is located 370 miles north of Sydney.

Unfortunately, more communities are expected to face flooding later in the week as inflated rivers and tributaries make their way toward the coast.

Related story:

NOAA announces 2012 hottest year on record as Australia burns

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Jean Williams, environmental and political journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.***PrairieDogPress is the media channel for keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.