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Has Australia’s climate switch been flipped?


Adelaide 5000

Just days after some of the worst bushfires ever seen in Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology tweeted on January 8 that a climate driver called the Indian Ocean Dipole had returned to neutral.

Around the same time, another climate driver, the Southern Annular Mode, returned to neutral as well.

Then the rains came in eastern Australia. And hail. And floods. And dust storms. And lightning.

“It’s really happened with a bang, or a real switch from unusually dry and stable conditions to this really significant event,” said meteorologist Diana Eadie.

“The system that brought a supercell to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne is the same system that brought the large hail to Canberra, and it’s the same system that’s also been aiding storm development in Queensland.”



Photo:

A dust storm approaches Nyngan, west of Dubbo. (Supplied: Emily Barclay)

Senior BOM climatologist Felicity Gamble said the change in the state of the climate drivers had not caused the wild weather — it just made conditions more favourable for rain.

“You still need to have those synoptic systems come through,” she said.

“But given that the drivers are now neutral, we’re in a much more favourable position for that to occur than we were, say, a couple of months ago.”

Record climate driver events

The IOD has been identified as one of the main culprits behind the drought and this summer’s terrible bushfires.

When waters are cooler than usual off Western Australia and warmer off east Africa (as they were this past spring), scientists call this a positive IOD.

In times of positive IOD, Australia typically experiences drought — last year’s positive IOD event was the second strongest ever recorded.


Infographic:
A positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole can lead to reduced rainfall across Australia.
(Supplied: BOM)

At the same time, Australian weather has also been under the influence of a negative Southern Annular Mode (SAM), bringing strong, dry westerly winds — bushfire winds — further north.

Last year’s negative SAM event was the strongest on record.

Climate drivers change simultaneously

Ms Gamble said that around the start of the year, three big climate drivers changed.

“SAM and the IOD did both decline at the same time, and, tied in with that, the southern movement of the monsoonal trough — it did all just line up at the start of 2020.”



Photo:

A negative SAM in summer favours hotter, drier winds. (Supplied: BOM)

Ms Eadie said easterly winds had begun flowing again across the eastern seaboard.

“We’re seeing a lot more moisture now streaming off the Coral Sea and the Tasman Sea,” she said.

“We’ve been in easterly winds along the east coast for the better part of the last couple of weeks, and with that moisture is increased as well.

“So unlike previous systems coming through with a lot of wind but very dry conditions, this particular low was able to tap into a lot more moisture along the entirety of the eastern seaboard.”



Photo:

The IOD can sometimes have a bigger impact on our climate than an El Nino or La Nina event. (Supplied: Rebecca Farquhar)

Positive IOD linked to bushfires, drought

Ms Gamble said there was a strong correlation between positive IODs and rainfall deficiencies, and then negative IODs and above-average rainfall.

“You say ‘El Nino’ and people know, ‘Oh, that means drought in Australia’, or vice versa, people tend to know La Nina means wetter-than-average conditions as well,” she said.

“But you say ‘Indian Ocean Dipole’, and most people wouldn’t really know what a positive IOD means or what a negative IOD means.

“And yet it can have as big, sometimes bigger impact on our climate than an El Nino or La Nina event — perhaps because it doesn’t have quite such a catchy name.”

The drought is not over

The BOM is predicting an equal chance of a wetter or drier-than-average period from February to April for most of Australia.

In other words, with climate drivers returned to neutral, the conditions favour an average amount of rain in most of Australia over the next few months.

Despite recent rain, senior BOM climatologist Andrew Watkins cautioned the drought was not over, tweeting:

External Link:

Watkins Tweet

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Tom Hanks’s Oscar-nominated performance as real-life children’s TV host Mr Rogers is pitch perfect


United States

“It’s not really about Mr Rogers,” Lloyd Vogel’s wife tells him after she reads his draft profile of the beloved children’s entertainer.

Fred Rogers graced American television screens for almost four decades as the gentle, cardigan-clad host of the daily children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, a set of well-worn puppets and a piano serving as his primary tools for connecting with multiple generations of very young viewers, almost right up until his passing in 2003.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood follows in the footsteps of the acclaimed 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour? (named after one of Rogers’ catchcries), but takes a roundabout approach to its ostensible subject.



Photo:

Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a fictionalised version of real-life journalist Tom Junod. (Supplied: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures)

Marielle Heller’s thoroughly affecting dramedy presents Mr Rogers through the eyes of hardened journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys of The Americans), whose encounters with the unlikely TV star (played here by a salt-and-pepper-haired Tom Hanks, Oscar-nominated for his performance) cause him to come undone at the seams — even as he attempts to crack Rogers’ famously saintly veneer.

(The director seems to have a thing for disgruntled writer types: her previous film, the wonderful Can You Ever Forgive Me?, was based on the exploits of accomplished literary forger Lee Israel — like Lloyd, a New Yorker with a notably prickly personality.)

“Please, don’t ruin my childhood,” Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) entreats her husband after learning of his “puff piece” assignment, fearful that the beneficent elder and his puppet friends will be no match for Lloyd’s snark.



Photo:

Matthew Rhys (left) says Hanks was born to portray Fred Rogers on screen. (Supplied: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures)

The character of Lloyd is based on real-life journalist Tom Junod, who was caught off-guard by Mr Rogers’ profound earnestness when he was assigned to profile him for Esquire magazine in 1998. The resultant piece served as inspiration for Heller’s film.

It’s a clever conceit: in restricting the viewer’s access to Rogers, who pretty much only appears in the film when dictated by Lloyd’s research, screenwriters Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (who also worked on the recent Maleficent sequel, of all things) are able to preserve a sense of his aura, while also avoiding the many pitfalls associated with the biopic genre.

(In this sense, A Beautiful Day finds a precedent in poignant 2015 drama The End of the Tour, in which Jesse Eisenberg plays a journalist on the trail of eccentric author David Foster Wallace.)

Rogers gets the first and last word, however. The film is framed as an episode of his TV show, with Hanks taking his place in the iconic opening sequence — shot using the same model of broadcast camera, which imbues the image with a nostalgic fuzziness.

External Link:

The film was shot in the same television studios where Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood was shot.

And, really, who better to play Mr Rogers than Mr Hanks? An A-list everyman, a long-time churchgoer and an enthusiastic collector of typewriters (could there be a more dorkily innocuous pursuit?). He’s known as one of the industry’s bona fide nice guys.

No, he doesn’t look a whole lot like Rogers — who was a slighter man than Hanks, with bigger features; bushier brows — but it’s almost a relief that Heller has chosen to steer clear of prosthetic or digital intervention.

Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood was a proudly lo-fi enterprise, with stage-y looking props and costumes and very little in the way of special effects. It seems true to the spirit of the show that Hanks evokes Rogers here through his nuanced performance and not newfangled tech.

As he walks in the door of his TV set home, lovingly recreated by production designer Jade Healy, Hanks addresses the camera directly — addresses you — with the sing-song solicitation, “Would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbour?”



Photo:

Hanks had initially passed on the film but changed his mind when director Marielle Heller (left) signed on to direct. (Supplied: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures)

There are several such points in the film where Hanks barrels the camera, his face radiating goodwill and acceptance. The sensation of being looked at in this way — of being seen, if you will — proves somehow simultaneously unsettling and deeply comforting.

If this is all starting to sound pretty sentimental, let me state clearly that A Beautiful Day is not just a 109-minute trip down memory lane, nor is it a kids’ movie: beneath the whimsy there is darkness and themes that are patently ‘adult’.

Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood was partly designed to help children understand and “modulate” their feelings, without condescending to them; it often tackled difficult topics in surprisingly forthright ways: “Death, divorce, war,” as Lloyd summarises. “It gets dark.”



Photo:

Chris Cooper portrays Jerry, Lloyd’s estranged father. (Supplied: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures)

Forgiveness is the theme of the episode that bookends Heller’s film, and Lloyd is Rogers’ case study. A recently minted father, he is angered by the sudden reappearance of his own, deadbeat dad, Jerry (played by the wily and charming Chris Cooper), and eager to make a point of rejecting the ailing man’s clumsy, apologetic overtures.

Mr Rogers acts as Lloyd’s guide on the road to forgiveness. He is both the omniscient narrator, presiding over the story from his TV-land living room, and a character in it — an interview subject as difficult and deflective as he is generous.



Photo:

Children’s television program Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood was hosted by Fred Rogers from 1968 to 2001. (Supplied: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures)

In A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Heller manages to balance humanism and tenderness with wry, sometimes bleak humour — pulling off this tricky mixture of tones with the same grace as in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The end result is nothing short of a therapeutic experience, and I will happily admit that it caused tears to well in the eyes of even this oft-cynical writer.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is in cinemas from January 23.

External Link:

A Beautiful Day in the Neigbourhood YouTube Trailer

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


NSW Minister tears into Red Cross for sitting on bushfire donations while victims suffer


Batemans Bay 2536

At an emotional press conference in Batemans Bay, Member for Bega Andrew Constance came out swinging against the Red Cross, Salvation Army and St Vincent De Paul for taking too long to distribute money.

Key points:

  • Andrew Constance said money needs to get to people who are “on their knees”.
  • Australian Red Cross has allocated $30 million of the $95 million donated so far
  • Mr Constance challenges charity bosses to come and see the bushfire devastation

“The money is needed now, not sitting in a Red Cross bank account earning interest so they can map out their next three years and do their marketing,” Mr Constance said.

“We need a very real change, very quickly so that the money can get to those who need it most … people are on their knees and we can’t have a drip-feed.”

The Australian Red Cross has received $95 million to date and on Wednesday announced they have allocated $30 million to victims.

A spokesperson said the organisation has paid out 559 grants but has 1,492 open applications.

St Vincent De Paul has raised $12.5 million and spent close to $1.1 million through financial packages for eligible households.

Since the Salvation Army’s bushfire appeal began in November, $43 million has been pledged and $11 million has been received.

From September to now, $7.6 million worth of goods and cash relief has been distributed.



Photo:

Areas of the South Coast were completely wiped out by bushfires. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Over the last two months, people all over the world have donated generously to charity appeals, the Rural Fire Service (RFS), Celeste Barber’s Facebook fundraiser and animal rescue organisations like the RSPCA.

Mr Constance, the NSW Minister for Transport and Roads, said it was “gutting” to learn only a third of the money donated to the Red Cross has been distributed when there are people who cannot afford the basics.

He said he had met people who are so traumatised they cannot even leave their properties to register for relief.



Photo:

A group gathers at a burnt out property near Nerrigundah. (Supplied: Facebook)

The Minister, who has admitted he will need trauma counselling, issued a challenge to the managing directors of the three charities to come and see how people are living.

“Meet me in Batemans Bay at 8.00am on Saturday and I’ll drive you the 300 kilometres of devastation on the far south coast.

“I’ll show you the people, you can look them in their eyes and you can see their despair and the destruction that this firebomb brought to our region.

“They better turn up, they better have the guts to show up and be with me … I’ll show them communities which haven’t been on the map, like Kiah, like Nerrigundah, like the back of Bemboka, like Cooma.”

The CEOs of St Vincent De Paul NSW and Canberra, Jack De Groot and Barnie van Wyk, have accepted Mr Constance’s invitation.

The charity said over the past three days Mr van Wyk has overseen the distribution of $200,000 in financial relief to bushfire-affected locals on the south coast.

Over the new year period, areas of the south coast were completely wiped out by bushfires, with devastating losses in Batemans Bay, Conjola Park, Conjola, Cobargo and Mogo.

‘Keen to get the money out’: Red Cross

Red Cross director of Australian services Noel Clement said there was an absolute commitment to getting money in victim’s pockets.

“We are keen to get the money out but we also need to make sure it’s getting where it’s needed,” he said.

Mr Clements admitted some people were waiting weeks for relief money as there were challenges in proving where they lived after losing everything.

“We must manage the money so we aren’t scammed … we want to make sure we are protecting donor’s funds,” he said.

He emphasised that recovery is a “long-term process” and it will take six months for some people to make claims or decide whether to rebuild.



Photo:

A Red Cross worker with a woman in a razed home. (Supplied: Red Cross Australia)

In a statement, the Red Cross said chief executive Judy Slatyer had been on the South Coast last week meeting with residents and had made “several attempts” to contact Mr Constance.

A spokesperson for the Salvation Army said their emergency relief was being distributed at evacuation and relief centres in bushfire zones.

“We understand relief can never happen fast enough for people in these traumatic circumstances. We are working as fast as we can,” they said.

How to protect yourself from scams:

  • Do not donate via fundraising pages that do not verify the legitimacy of the fundraiser
  • Be careful about crowdfunding requests as these may be fake and also come from scammers
  • Check the terms and conditions of funding platforms and ensure you are dealing with official organisations
  • Check a charity is registered by searching the Australia Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Charity Register

Former emergency service commissioner Peter Dunn is a Conjola local helping to lead the community’s recovery efforts and said donations have been “overwhelming” but long-term management was vital.

“I saw this in the Canberra [bushfires] in 2003 … there is enormous generosity when people are seeing images and hearing the stories on the media,” he said.

“But after three-to-six months, other events take over and they catch the public’s imagination and naturally, the donation flow starts to diminish.”

He said this would be around this time when victims began to rebuild.

During the first few months, homes need to be inspected, insurance claims finalised and asbestos cleared from the land, he said.

“But of course by then the focus of the public has gone elsewhere,” Mr Dunn said.

How much has been donated?RecipientAmountCharitiesRed Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery$95mSalvation Army Disaster Appeal$44mVinnies NSW Bushfire Appeals in NSW, Qld, ACT, SA and Victoria$11.5mFoundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (Disaster Resilience & Recovery Fund)$4mGippsland Emergency Relief Fund$3.2mState government and local council appealsVictorian Bushfire Appeal$23.3mSA Bushfire Appeal$4mKangaroo Island Mayoral Relief and Recovery Bushfire Fund$2mLocal fire services and brigadesNew South Wales Rural Fire Service$51mVictoria’s Country Fire Authority$1.7mSouth Australia’s Country Fire Service Foundation $1mAnimal welfare organisationsWildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) Emergency Fund$11mWildlife Victoria Bushfire Appeal$170KRSPCA appeals nationally$6.2mOrganisations donating goods and servicesFoodbank Natural Disaster Relief$2mGIVIT – 20,000 items distributed to fire affected communities in NSW and QLD$2.9mTotal money donated (at January 22)$263mGovernment contributionsCommonwealth$2bnNSW (over two years to rebuild infrastructure incl. roads, schools)$1bnVictoria (part of joint funding with the Commonwealth)$86m

External Link:

ABC embed: Tell us your bushfire questions

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Phoenix praises Joker predecessor Ledger, Brad and Jen have a cuddle at the SAG Awards


United States

With their proximity to the Oscars — only three weeks away — the Screen Actor’s Guild awards are closely watched as an Academy Awards harbinger.

Key points:

  • South Korean dark comedy Parasite is quickly accruing Oscars hype, winning the SAG Awards’ top honour
  • Brad Pitt watched Jennifer Aniston’s acceptance speech backstage before they warmly congratulated each other
  • Fleabag, the Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Joaquin Phoenix and Laura Dern also picked up awards

Held on Monday morning (Australian time) at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the awards honour both film and TV and are voted on by members of the main actor’s union.

The ceremony made history, with South Korean film Parasite becoming the first foreign language film to win the SAG Awards’ top honour — only adding to growing Oscar buzz for the dark comedy.

In case you were not counting down the sleeps to the Oscars, this is your reminder that the ceremony will be broadcast from 11:00am AEST on February 10.

We will have full coverage of the red carpet, the ceremony and what it all means once all the gongs have been handed out.

But — for better or worse — the moment everyone will be talking about tomorrow was the reunion of former husband and wife Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston backstage.

If you can get over that, here’s a roundup of our top five takeaways from the evening.

The Parasite cast received a two-minute standing ovation

Parasite has officially infected this year’s award season.

Director Bong Joon Ho’s film won the Outstanding Performance by a Cast gong over starrier productions like Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and The Irishman.

The audience greeted the victory for Parasite with a standing ovation.

External Link:

@thr tweet: What a moment. The cast of #Parasite get a standing ovation at the #SAGAwards as they present their film in the best ensemble cast category https://trib.al/R6YkN8N

The win sets the dark comedy up as a legitimate best-picture contender to the frontrunner 1917 at next month’s Academy Awards.

But it’s not a given: for the last two years, the SAG ensemble winners — Black Panther in 2019 and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in 2018 — has not gone on to win best picture at the Oscars.

This year’s Oscars front-runner, 1917, more acclaimed for its technical acumen, wasn’t nominated for the SAG ensemble award.

External Link:

@ScottFeinberg tweet: PARASITE wins — the first non-English-language film ever to win the best ensemble SAG Award — and in a better position than ever to become the first non-English-language film ever to win the best picture Oscar! The little engine that could…

In fact, the Producers Guild Awards (PGAs) is generally more predictive than the SAG awards.

In 21 of the last 30 years, the PGA winner has lined up with the eventual best picture winner.

The PGAs, which were held on Sunday Australian time, chose 1917 as its top film.

Brad and Jen reunited backstage, breaking the internet

One reunion trumped all others at the SAG Awards, where both Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston took home awards and celebrated each other’s wins.

Pitt is headed toward his first acting Academy Award for his supporting performance in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, and he added to his front-runner status with a win from the actors’ guild.

External Link:

@sagaftrafound tweet: Here's #BradPitt & #JenniferAniston congratulating each other backstage at #SAGawards. What a moment! Both actors were @SAGawards recipients tonight.

Along the way, his speeches have been full of one-liners and he didn’t disappoint on Sunday night.

Pitt, who said he was nursing a flu, looked down at his award and said, “I’ve got to add this to my Tinder profile.”

“Let’s be honest, it was a difficult part,” he said.

“A guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn’t get on with his wife.

“It was a big stretch.”

External Link:

@JohnCohen1 tweet: A Brad Pitt / Jennifer Aniston story in two photos:

The audience laughed and clapped, including — as the cameras captured — Aniston, his ex-wife.

Aniston later won an award of her own for best female actor in a drama series for the Apple TV Plus show The Morning Show.

Backstage, Pitt watched Aniston’s acceptance speech.

After she got off stage, they warmly congratulated each other on their first individual SAG Awards — promptly breaking the internet.

External Link:

@jduboff tweet: the entire staff of Us Weekly just got a text that was like, “GET TO THE OFFICE NOW”

Joaquin Phoenix praised his Joker predecessor, Heath Ledger

Along with Pitt, all the Oscar favourites kept their momentum, including wins for Renee Zellweger (Judy), Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story).

As expected, Phoenix took best performance by a male actor.

After individually praising each fellow nominee, Phoenix concluded with a nod to his Joker predecessor.

“I’m standing here on the shoulders of my favourite actor, Heath Ledger,” said Phoenix.

Dern also further established herself as the best supporting actress favourite with a win from the actors’ guild.

On her way to the stage, she hugged her father, Bruce Dern (part of the Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood ensemble).

External Link:

@tntdrama tweet: Joaquin Phoenix with a great acceptance speech honoring his fellow nominees

Awkward! A Marvelous Mrs Maisel cast member admitted she voted for competitor Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge continued her awards sweep for Fleabag, a winner at the Emmys and the Golden Globes.

Waller-Bridge added a SAG win for best female actor in a comedy series and took a moment to reflect on the show’s parade of accolades.

“This whole thing really has been a dream, and if I wake up tomorrow and discover it was just that, then thank you,” said Waller-Bridge.

“It’s been the most beautiful dream.”

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel also continued its streak, winning best comedy series ensemble for the second straight year, along with Tony Shalhoub taking home the statue for best male actor in a comedy series.

But while accepting the award for outstanding performance by an ensemble, the show’s shocked Alex Borstein said she had voted for Fleabag.

“I voted for Fleabag! This is really weird,” she said.

“This makes no sense, Fleabag is brilliant.”

External Link:

@birdiedraper_ tweet: alex borstein: i voted for fleabag, this is really weird, this makes no sense (…) honestly, this makes no sense. fleabag is brilliant, you guys are brilliant. i didn't vote for rachel, i didn't vote for tony… rachel brosnahan: i forgot to vote.

And of course, an awards show couldn’t go by without a reference to Trump

Robert De Niro was given the guild’s lifetime achievement award, an honour presented by Leonardo DiCaprio who, like De Niro, is a frequent leading man for Martin Scorsese.

The two co-star in Scorsese’s upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon.

A raucous standing ovation greeted the 76-year-old actor.

De Niro, a fiery critic of Donald Trump, referenced the President in his remarks.

“There’s right and there’s wrong,” he said.

“And there’s common sense and there’s abuse of power.

“As a citizen, I have as much right as anybody — an actor, an athlete, anybody else — to voice my opinion.

“And if I have a bigger voice because of my situation, I’m going to use it whenever I see a blatant abuse of power.”

ABC/AP

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


$76 million funding package aimed at tackling Australian tourism’s ‘biggest challenge in living memory’


Australia

The Federal Government has announced a $76 million recovery package in response to this summer’s bushfires, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying Australian tourism is facing “its biggest challenge in living memory”.

Key points:

  • The recovery package includes funding to attract domestic and international visitors
  • While money has also been allocated for grants for “new attractions” in bushfire affected regions
  • The Australian Tourism Industry Council estimates the bushfires have cost the country “hundreds of millions” of dollars

Mr Morrison described the funding — drawn from the Government’s national bushfire recovery fund — as an “urgent injection” of funds for businesses impacted by the bushfire crisis.

The Australian Tourism Industry Council has estimated the bushfire crisis has cost the national industry “hundreds of millions” of dollars and damaged Australia’s brand internationally, with a perception “the whole country’s on fire”.

The crisis has led to the highly publicised ‘Matesong’ tourism campaign being paused in the UK as well as the United States upgrading its travel advisory for Australia to “level two” — warning Americans to “exercise increased caution”.

This week, the Australian Tourism Export Council told the Australian Financial Review cancellations by tourists from large markets such as the US, UK and China was hurting the industry and could cost the country at least $4.5 billion by the end of the year.

The Government’s package includes $20 million for marketing to domestic travellers and $25 million for a global tourism campaign to advise international visitors that Australia is “safe and open for business”, as well as $10 million towards creating new attractions in bushfire affected regions of the country.


Video: The Tourism Australia ad 'Matesong' was pulled from UK screens

(ABC News)

“Australian tourism is facing its biggest challenge in living memory,” Mr Morrison said in a statement announcing the funding package.

“One in 13 Australian jobs rely on tourism and hospitality, so our $76 million investment is an urgent injection to help all those hotels, restaurants and cafes and tour operators get back on their feet.

“This is make or break for many businesses and tourist hot spots and not just in those areas directly hit by the bushfires.

As Australia burns, is our reputation at risk?
Could the international call to arms and subsequent influx of foreign aid and donations damage our national reputation?

“This is about getting more visitors to help keep local businesses alive and protect local jobs right across the country and especially in those areas so directly devastated such as Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, the Blue Mountains and right along the NSW Coast and East Gippsland in Victoria. “

The funding will provide grants of up to $1.5 million per project for events such as concerts and festivals — as well as permanent attractions such as art installations and tourist walks — in fire-affected regions, with the worst-impacted areas to be prioritised.

The package also includes funding to encourage international publicity for Australia’s tourism industry and spread the message that Australia’s educational and export sectors are still open for business, as well as drive attendance to the Australian Tourism Exchange.

Industry welcomes funding but warns of tough times ahead

The tourism industry broadly welcomed the Government’s announcement, but warned there was a long road ahead for businesses doing it tough.

“People are believing everything they see on social media — the country’s on fire, top to bottom, coast to coast, don’t go to Uluru because it’s on fire, Sydney airport’s on fire — crazy stuff,” Margy Osmond from the Tourism and Transport Forum said.

External Link:

The Canberra, Come Back video was made by Batemans Bay businesses.

“We have an enormous international problem, in terms of how people are now viewing us.

“We’re going to have to do another big piece of brand work, but I think that’s a bit further down the track.”

Early figures from Tourism Australia showed international bookings were down by between 20 and 30 per cent for the first fortnight of 2020, with visitors from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France and China among those choosing to stay away.

As with most of the money being announced for fire recovery, the response across the political spectrum has been welcoming.

‘This is a marathon, not a sprint’
Charities on the front line of the bushfire recovery effort are pleading with corporate Australia not to go too hard out of the blocks with big cash donations while ignoring long-term commitments.

However, the Greens argued damage to the tourism sector was another example of the Coalition’s mismanagement of the bushfire crisis.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the Coalition had repeatedly ignored warning signs about the threat of fires, and the deaths of hundreds of millions of animals was just one consequence.

“We’ve got a huge social and health crisis on our hands, with the impact of poor air quality, which won’t be known for years to come,” Senator Di Natale said.

“What we’ve seen is a catastrophe — it is unprecedented, but unprecedented doesn’t mean unforeseen.”

The threat posed by the bushfires to the country’s tourism industry has inspired Australians to launch their own community-driven campaigns to encourage people to go back to impacted areas, such as a video by Batemans Bay businesses urging Canberra residents to return to the South Coast of NSW.

The community campaigns come on top of hundreds of millions of dollars donated to charities by the public, celebrities and philanthropists.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Tennis players livid after ‘slap in the face’ email from Australian Open officials


Australia

Tennis players have lashed out at officials after being asked to play in smoky conditions during qualifying for the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Tuesday and Wednesday.

British player Liam Broady led the condemnation after describing an email from the ATP and the Australian Open as “a slap in the face”.

External Link:

LiamBroady tweet: We can't let this go.

The 26-year-old world number 234 said the email described conditions as “playable”, but Broady questioned whether they were “healthy”.

Broady, who was beaten by Belarus’s Ilya Ivashka in straight sets on Tuesday in the first round of qualifying, tweeted his grievance in a message with the heading, “We can’t let this go” and called for the establishment of a players’ union.

“Citizens of Melbourne were warned to keep their animals indoors the day I played qualifying, and yet we were expected to go outside for high-intensity physical competition?” Broady wrote.

The Brit cited examples of “multiple” players needing asthma medication, despite never having suffered from asthma, and women’s player Dalila Jakupovic being forced to retire.

German player Dustin Brown appeared to confirm Broady’s claims after he was knocked out by top seed Dennis Novak in qualifying on Wednesday.

‘I couldn’t breathe anymore’
Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic says she could not walk anymore and was “really scared” she would collapse after a coughing fit in Melbourne amid heavy bushfire smoke choking the city.

“In 35 years, its the first time I had to use an asthma spray to help me breathe better …” Brown wrote, quoting Broady’s tweet.

Brown, currently ranked 203 in the world and in his 19th year on the tour, said that the doctor on court told him that he had “a virus coming on” before adding the hashtag “well said, Liam”.

Broady’s 21-year-old compatriot Jay Clarke said his “body literally failed” on Tuesday when he lost in three sets to Slovenian Blaz Kavcic.

“I pride myself on being one of the fittest players on the circuit I play,” Clarke said.

“My body literally failed me on that day and I wasn’t the only one. 25 seconds between points felt like five!”



Photo:

Players are unhappy at having been asked to play in smoky conditions. (AAP: Michael Dodge)

Broady says lower-ranked players not treated equally

Broady also alluded to the inequality between players outside the top level of the sport, saying that players are not being treated equally.

“On tour, we let so many things go that aren’t right, but at some point, we have to make a stand,” Broady wrote.

“All players need protection, not just a select few.”

Despite playing in Tennis Australia’s bushfire fundraising match on Wednesday night, the game’s leading players have not commented on the conditions for players in the qualification tournament, aside from Novak Djokovic, who proposed delaying the tournament last week.

World number 23 Lucas Pouille said in French on Twitter that players had the option to not play.

“I keep reading that it is dangerous to play, reading messages from players saying that it is scandalous to play,” Pouille wrote in French.

“My question is this, why are you going on court?”

Tennis Australia has been contacted for comment.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Thunderstorm warning eases for Sydney as heavy rain covers most of NSW


Sydney 2000

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has downgraded its warning for severe thunderstorms across parts of Sydney and the Blue Mountains as conditions have eased.

Key points:

  • The Rural Fire Service says it’s seen “good falls” on some firegrounds
  • However, there are fears bushfire debris could prevent water from being absorbed into soil
  • A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for several areas

It said severe thunderstorms were no longer affecting Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong or surrounding areas, however the situation was being monitored closely as it was possible further severe thunderstorms could develop.

A more general warning remains in place for areas stretching from the South West Slopes and Plains and Snowy Mountains districts to the Mid North Coast.

The NSW State Emergency Service (SES) said it had received around 200 callouts across the state, mostly for fallen trees and leaking roofs.

SES Spokesperson Andrew McCullough said much of the damage was in the north of the state, around Port Stephens and in some bushfire-affected towns on the South Coast, while there were 25 callouts at Parkes in the state’s Central West.

“We’re seeing isolated and localised thunderstorms bringing really heavy downpours of rain in some locations so it’s really important that motorists make safe decisions and stay out of the floodwaters while they’re driving their vehicles,” he said.

Heavy rain has already fallen in several regional centres including Tamworth and the Hunter, and thunderstorms will persist throughout the evening.

The BOM warned the rainfall in fire affected areas may contain debris such as ash, soil, trees and rocks.

Trees that have been damaged by fire are also more likely to fall, BOM has warned.


Video: Children play in the rain in the NSW Southern Tablelands town of Dalton

(ABC News)

Ausgrid said power was out for 3,000 customer in Port Stephens, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie after severe storms swept through the Hunter.

More than 10,000 lightning strikes were recorded in the Hunter during the storms.

The rain has offered some relief for fire crews, but there are concerns the wet weather could cause landslides, flash flooding and contaminate water.

Cool, wet conditions are good news for firefighters who have been battling hundreds of blazes across the state since September.

A Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokesperson said despite the rain a number of fires continued to burn.

“In some places, the rain has been very beneficial and has assisted in seeing fires moved to ‘out’ — particularly up in the Northern Tablelands area,” the spokesperson said.

“In saying that, it is not state-wide, and a number of fires will continue to burn as a small amount of rainfall is not enough, and can hinder important containment work including backburning.”

The BOM predicted between 30 and 80 millimetres of rain would fall in some areas between now and Sunday.


Video: Rain map for SE Australia over the next few days

(ABC News)

The heavens opened over Sydney Thursday morning and about 20-40mm is set to fall over the next few days.

Hunter farmer Doug Robertson said the rain had given everybody a mental lift.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’re into the third year of what I would call a solid drought.

“If it keeps doing what hopefully it’s forecast to do, it will mean the world to us.

“From a mental point of view that load starts to lift. You can see the light again.”

Meanwhile, the RFS said there had been “good falls” across some firegrounds.

The downpour is a result of a deep inland trough moving through the state which is drawing humid air into the system.



Photo:

Storm clouds roll into Edgeroi near Narrabri. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)

RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd said he was expecting around 10-15mm to drop on most firegrounds.

However, BOM forecaster Abrar Shabren said debris, which has remained on firegrounds for weeks, could prevent water from being absorbed into the soil.

It could also lead to a significant run-off of ash, soil and other debris which have accumulated in the past months.

“Flash flooding is generally a concern with thunderstorms and ponding of water on roads,” Mr Shabren said.

“Depending on how much vegetation is left, how much bushfire the ground has gone through, that can also add to the impact of flash flooding as well.”

Mr Shabren said bushfire areas, particularly in elevated regions, were also “vulnerable” to landslides and toppling trees during thunderstorms because fires would have weakened the vegetation.



Photo:

Heavy rain fell in the town of Tingha in the Northern Tablelands. (Supplied: Facebook: Steph Stewart)

The amount of rainfall is also unlikely to replenish dams or break the drought in any regions, according to Tony Weber from WaterNSW.

Warragamba Dam, which supplies water to more than 5 million people living in Sydney and the lower Blue Mountains, is at 43.7 per cent capacity.

External Link:

FAcebook post

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Bushfire smoke plume expected to lap the globe, NASA says


Adelaide 5000

NASA is predicting smoke from the country’s devastating bushfires will make it all the way around the world, with the potential to move over Australian skies again in the coming days.

Key points:

  • NASA maps show a bushfire smoke plume crossing the Pacific Ocean
  • The smoke is predicted to cross Australia again in the coming days
  • While it may not be visible, it could cause hazy skies over parts of the country

However, one expert has said it may not be visible to the naked eye.

Several Australian cities have already been blanketed with smoke during the bushfire crisis in the past few weeks, including Canberra, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, where air quality was rated at its “worst ever” in mid-December.

Satellite imaging tracking the progress of a smoke plume shows it drifting out over the Tasman Sea and then to the Pacific Ocean.

“Over the past week, NASA satellites have observed an extraordinary amount of smoke injected into the atmosphere from the Australian fires and its subsequent eastward dispersal,” the agency said on its website.

“The smoke is expected to make at least one full circuit around the globe, returning once again to the skies over Australia.”

External Link:

NASA aerosol index map shows movement of smoke plume, marked in yellow

NASA has been monitoring the movement of smoke from the Australian bushfires for at least the past fortnight, during which time the plume has crossed the Tasman Sea.

“The smoke is having a dramatic impact on New Zealand, causing severe air quality issues across the country and visibly darkening mountain-top snow,” the agency said.

NASA said the intense heat from bushfires across Australia — including New South Wales, Victoria, the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island — had triggered fire-induced thunderstorms.



Photo:

Kangaroo Island’s fires have burnt half the island, and emitted huge amounts of smoke. (Lauren Dauphin/NASA)

University of New South Wales astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith has been following the plume’s progress through NASA images.

She said it would not be long before the smoke was travelling in Australian airspace again.

“I would expect the smoke to have completely circled the globe and be visible above southern parts of WA in the next few days, probably not at ground level but high in the atmosphere,” Professor Harvey-Smith said.

Smoke particles could do ‘several loops’

Professor Harvey-Smith said the smoke cloud had “already enveloped around three quarters of the world” and was being pushed along by thunderstorms generated by the fires, and had reached 17 kilometres above sea level.

“Being at that high altitude allows the smoke to travel relatively unimpeded, above most of the atmosphere and weather,” she said.

ABC News Breakfast weather presenter Nate Byrne said the smoke would likely become diluted as it crossed over South America, meaning the plume may not be visible once it reaches Australia again.



Photo:

A satellite image from the NASA Earth Observatory showing smoke over the Pacific Ocean. (NASA)

“The old thinking was that the solution to pollution was dilution,” he said.

“But in the case of these fires — they are so huge, they are still burning, and will be burning for quite some time — there’s a constant of supply of smoke particles into the air.

“By the time the wind gets all the way back around to the west of Australia, it’s spent a lot of time being mixed with clean air from higher up or lower down in the atmosphere, so you won’t see the thick smoke like you’d see right next to the fire.

“Most likely the only way we’ll be able to detect it is from satellites.”

External Link:

NASA aerosol index map shows smoke plume cross the Pacific Ocean

However, Byrne said it was still possible that Perth locals might notice a “hazy day” soon.

He said while it did not appear to have reached the west coast just yet, it probably would “within days”.

“Smoke particles don’t disappear — they have to be removed from the air somehow,” he said.

“The more smoke particles there are in the air, the more likely it is that some will be able to make it all the way around the Earth and, in fact, maybe do several loops.

“Just like when you see really huge volcanic explosions, the ash from those can travel several times around the globe and cause havoc for quite some time.”



Photo:

Smoke from the Australian bushfires blankets Dunedin in New Zealand. (Twitter: @BeneHoltmann)

Stay across our bushfire coverage:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Why Thailand’s military is behind a ‘green gold’ rush


Thailand

South-East Asia is notorious for its brutal approach to policing drug use and production. But in Thailand change is afoot, as authorities seek to develop a homegrown medical marijuana industry.

Key points:

  • Thailand is the first South-East Asian country to legalise medical marijuana
  • Officials hope it will boost agricultural incomes and attract more medical tourists
  • Neighbouring Malaysia has signalled its intention to decriminalise drug use

Its conservative, military-dominated Government has spearheaded the effort, which seeks to make Thailand a regional centre for the production and distribution of medical marijuana.

Earlier this month, Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health launched its first full-time medical marijuana clinic in Bangkok.

Who can get medicinal marijuana?

The Federal Government has approved the sale of medicinal marijuana, but it still won’t be easy for people to get a prescription.

It has approved use of cannabis extracts for treatment of a range of illnesses and conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and anxiety.

The Government has promised to open more clinics in greater Bangkok, with patients able to book appointments via a specialised smartphone app.

Front and centre of the Thai Government’s campaign to promote medicinal marijuana is its mascot Dr Ganja, an approachable, leaf-headed scientist.

Thailand’s strongman Prime Minister, former military general Prayut Chan-o-cha, has personally promoted legal cannabis, recently appearing enjoying a cannabis inhaler alongside Dr Ganja.

So where did this push towards developing Thailand’s legal cannabis industry come from, and could it signal further liberalisation of drug use in South-East Asia?

When did the push towards medical marijuana start?

First outlawed in 1935, marijuana has reportedly been a part of traditional Thai medicine and cooking for centuries, mainly used as a versatile form of pain relief.

Thailand legalised medical marijuana in December 2018, making it the first country in South-East Asia to do so.

The military-dominated parliament voted to amend the 1979 Narcotic Act to approve the use of marijuana for medical use and research, calling it a “New Year’s gift” to the Thai people.

A dedicated Health Ministry website now provides information to the Thai public about cannabis cultivation, medical research and the legal status of marijuana in the country.



Photo:

Authorities have showcased a range of cannabis oil products made in Thailand. (Reuters: Jorge Silva)

South-East Asia’s ‘war on drugs’
While thousands of drug convicts sit on death row in prisons across South-East Asia, the local trade in methamphetamine and other illicit drugs is flourishing.

Government agencies, higher education institutions, agricultural producers, social enterprises and medical professionals are now permitted to grow marijuana for medical purposes.

In April last year, Rangsit University in Bangkok launched the country’s first medical cannabis research institution.

It is reportedly home to Asia’s first “ganja studies” program, which the university says has attracted significant interest.

Possession and trafficking of the drug still attract harsh penalties.

But further slated legal changes could allow people to bring medical cannabis into Thailand and foreigners to hold stakes in commercial cannabis producers of up to 33 per cent.

Foreign cannabis producers are already eyeing the Thai market.

US firm Rafarma Pharmaceuticals recently employed a Thai corporate officer in order to run its “upcoming” Thai operations and create “the most synergy between the company’s European and Thai cannabis cultivation operations”, it said in a statement.

Why did Thailand decide to promote medical marijuana?

Put simply, the military establishment recognises there are huge business and tax revenue-raising opportunities to be had.

According to a 2019 study by Grand View Research, a US-based market research firm, the global legal marijuana market is expected to be worth US$66.3 billion ($96 billion) by the end of 2025.

“The cannabis market, and all illegal drugs, are controlled by the black market — organised crime,” Gino Vumbaca, president of Harm Reduction Australia, said.



Photo:

Drug policy advocates argue cannabis should be treated the same as alcohol and tobacco. (ABC News: Meghna Bali)

“Compare that to alcohol and tobacco, where the Government takes revenue which goes back into treatment and health promotion. There’s money that feeds back into the community.”

Thai lawmakers have no doubt watched the rapid growth of the legal cannabis industry in North America, which has pumped money into Government coffers and created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The US state of Colorado, for example, rakes in more than $29 million per month in fees and taxes applied to legal cannabis.

External Link:

Facebook: Khaosod English

Marijuana market researchers Prohibition Partners predict that the Asian medical cannabis market could be worth $8.4 billion by 2024.

“A regulated legal cannabis market could be transformative to patients, farmers and economies across Asia,” Prohibition Partners managing director, Daragh Anglim, said in a statement.

“From a financial standpoint, as the world’s most populous region, the legalisation of cannabis could encourage robust economic growth across the region, buoyed by both local and international demand.”

Prohibition Partners claims that Thailand’s national cannabis industry will be worth $958 million by 2024.



Photo:

Thailand hopes its medicinal marijuana clinics can attract foreign medical tourists. (AP: Sakchai Lalit)

Myanmar’s meth crisis
An unlikely partnership between soldiers and poverty-stricken refugees to traffic drugs speaks to the breadth of Myanmar’s drug crisis.

Marijuana has been heralded as a way that impoverished Thai farmers might diversify their crop production.

“I expect Thailand can make 100 billion baht ($4.8 billion) a year from growing cannabis and selling the raw material and cannabis oil,” Prapat Panyachartrak, chairman of the National Farmers Council of Thailand, told AFP in 2018.

Thailand is already one of the largest medical tourism destinations in the world.

Officials also hope that medical marijuana will attract even more medical tourists to the Kingdom.

“We would like to provide medical tour packages, such as detox, Thai massage and other wellness courses that use marijuana substances,” Thailand’s tourism minister Pipat Ratchakitprakan said on his first day in office in mid-2019, as quoted by the Bangkok Post.

Could it see further liberalisation of drug policy in Thailand?

Anutin Charnvirakul, now-Deputy Prime Minister, Public Health Minister and leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, campaigned on a pro-cannabis platform during the March 2019 general election campaign.

Mr Charnvirakul presented himself as a superhero alter-ego “weedman” and endorsed the idea of allowing regular Thais to grow up to six marijuana plants at home.

The proposed reforms would appear to have popular support.

Decriminalisation in Malaysia
After a 40-year war on drugs that has seen two Australians hanged and countless thousands of drug users locked up, there is a dramatic shift in Malaysia’s approach to narcotics.

According to the Bangkok Post, a recent poll showed that more than half of Thais surveyed support full legalisation of marijuana.

This signals that Thailand could be on the road to legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.

“What you see is Thailand, correctly I think, changing its approach to drugs by looking at marijuana in a different way that they look at methamphetamines,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told the ABC last year.

But observers say Thailand is unlikely to treat other recreational drugs in the same way as marijuana or loosen its tough approach to illegal drugtaking.

“If nothing else, it causes other nations to stop and think about what they’re doing,” Mr Vumbaca said.

“‘Drug free Asia’ has been the motto of ASEAN [the Association of South-East Asian Nations] for many, many years.

“Thailand’s new approach is based in the real world, not a fantasy world.”



Photo:

South-East Asian governments are renowned for imposing the toughest drug penalties on the planet. (AP)

And gradual change is happening elsewhere in the region.

Amid an increasing recognition of drug addiction as a public health issue, Malaysia’s Government is looking to decriminalise drug use, while maintaining harsh penalties for trafficking.

“Incarceration is expensive and has proven ineffective in curbing drug use, and prison populations across South-East Asia have been rising as the levels of methamphetamine production, trafficking and use have been rising,” Jeremy Douglas from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and Eamonn Murphy from UNAIDS, wrote in a recent opinion piece.

“Taking a health-first approach to reducing harmful drug use is cost-effective,” they said.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


South Australia sweats it out through driest year on record in 2019


Adelaide 5000

South Australia suffered its driest year on record during 2019, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says, with rainfall down 65 per cent as mean temperatures rose 1.45 degrees Celsius higher than the long-term average.

Key points:

  • Every month except August endured above-average temperatures in SA, with a record dry spell between January and April
  • Average rainfall in the state was down 65 per cent to become its driest year on record
  • Adelaide endured its hottest day on record on January 24 when it reached 46.6C, beating the mark set 80 years earlier

Releasing the 2019 Annual Climate Statement today, BOM head of climate monitoring Karl Braganza said every month apart from August endured above-average temperatures in SA, while there was a record dry spell between January and April.

“It was very dry, the driest year on record, with average rainfalls of about 80 millimetres [down 65 per cent from the long-term average],” he said.

“We’ve got several locations throughout the interior where we got less than 30mm rainfall for the year.”

The bureau said 2019 was South Australia’s second hottest year on record.

Adelaide endured its hottest day on record on January 24 when it reached 46.6C, beating the 46.1C recorded in 1939.

Lake Eyre fills despite big dry

Australia’s annual mean temperature was 1.52C above average and its overall rainfall down 40 per cent.

This is despite February’s Townsville floods, which exceeded local rainfall records.



Photo:

Floodwaters near Birdsville make their way towards Lake Eyre during February. (Supplied: C. Ellis)

“What we did see is the floodwaters eventually making their way to Lake Eyre or Kati Thanda,” Dr Braganza said.

“That’s the most significant filling of the lake since 2010-11 in the midst of all the rainfall deficiencies around that location.”

Australian maximums up 2C

Dr Braganza said daytime temperatures across the country in 2019 were above their average maximums by a whopping 2.09C for the first time in recorded history.

“We also saw the six hottest days on record, peaking at 41.9C [on average across the country],” he said.

“We saw 11 such days where the national daily temperature [on average] went over 40C this summer, and that is really quite stark.



Photo:

A map revealing above average temperatures Australia-wide during 2019. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)

“There were two such days in 1972-73, two in 2013, seven last summer and 11 this summer. So that’s really indicative of how widespread that heat is.”

Dr Braganza said there were multiple factors behind the hot and dry weather including a strong Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) event, or sustained change in the difference between sea surface temperatures in the western and eastern Indian Ocean.

There was also a rare and sudden stratospheric warming event above the South Pole which pushed Australian weather systems northward and “compounded the warmer and drier than average conditions over southern Queensland and New South Wales during spring, amplifying the fire weather”.


Video: This is how sudden stratospheric warming occurs

(ABC News)

Global warm a ‘key factor’

Dr Braganza added that global warming had been a “key factor” because Australia had warmed by more than one degree since 1910 — mostly since the mid-20th century.

“You can consider that most of the weather is occurring in a climate system that is about one degree warmer,” he said.

“So that will tend to push things towards record territory.

“We’ve got very well-defined and clear trends underlying the changes we’ve seen over the past couple of decades.”

External Link:

The weather bureau's outlook for January to March

Dr Braganza said a delayed monsoon season, which typically helped to cool the country’s interior, had also contributed to hot weather over summer.

“There’s nothing really indicating that things will cool down too much over the next few months, although we are starting to see some signs that the monsoon season is starting to get active,” he said.

BOM’s climate outlook overview, released last week, found that SA and Western Australia could receive average to wetter-than-average conditions in January, despite eastern Australia remaining drier than average.

That potential for wetter conditions was expected to weaken through February and there was no strong tendency towards wetter or drier-than-average conditions up to April.

BOM said days and nights were likely to remain warmer than average through to April.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Dozens of Iranians and Canadians among 176 killed in Boeing crash


Iran, Islamic Republic Of

A Ukrainian passenger plane carrying 176 people has crashed due to technical problems after take-off from Tehran’s main international airport, killing all on board, Iran’s state television and Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry say.

Key points:

  • Rescuers are attempting to recover the bodies from the crash site
  • Air tracking service FlightRadar24 says the plane that crashed was Flight PS 752
  • The crash comes hours after Iran launched a missile attack targeting two bases in Iraq housing US forces

The Boeing 737-800, which belongs to Ukraine International Airlines and took off on Wednesday morning (local time), crashed near Imam Khomeini International Airport and burst into flames after a fire struck one of its engines, said Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry.

The pilot lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into farmland near the town of Shahedshahr on the outskirts of Tehran, Mr Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Hassan Razaeifar, the head of Iran’s air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot could not communicate with air-traffic controllers in the last moments of the flight.



Photo:

A relative of a flight attendant on the plane at an airport in Ukraine following the news. (AP: Efrem Lukatsky)

According to website FlightRadar24, the plane was Flight PS 752 and it had stopped sending data almost immediately after take-off.

Prior to take-off, it had been delayed by almost an hour. It took off to the west, but never made it above 8,000 feet in the air, according to FlightRadar24.

The Boeing 737-800 carried 167 passengers and nine crew members on its flight to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, Mr Biniaz said.

According to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, on the plane there were:

  • 82 Iranians
  • 11 Ukrainians
  • 63 Canadians
  • 10 Swedes
  • Four Afghans
  • Three Germans
  • Three British people

Airline officials said most of the passengers were transiting through Kiev to other destinations.

Ukraine International Airlines said it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran after the crash.

“It was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew,” Yevhen Dykhne, president of the airline, said at a briefing following the crash.

The crash came hours after Iran launched a missile attack targeting two bases in Iraq housing US forces in retaliation for the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani last week.



Photo:

The plane is believed to have stopped sending data almost immediately after take-off. (AP: Mohammad Nasiri)

Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s emergency services, said rescuers were trying to recover the bodies from the crash site.

But he later told state television: “The fire is so heavy that we cannot [do] any rescue … we have 22 ambulances, four bus ambulances and a helicopter at the site.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy confirmed all passengers and crew on board were killed, citing preliminary information.

In a statement, Mr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was trying to establish the circumstances of the crash.

“My sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of all passengers and crew,” he said.

Mr Zelenskiy later ordered a sweeping inspection of all civil airplanes in the country, “no matter the conclusions about the crash in Iran”.



Photo:

The plane went down after a fire reportedly struck one of its engines. (AP: Mohammad Nasiri)

His office said he had cut his visit to Oman short and was returning to Kiev because of the crash.

“Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims,” said Parliament Speaker Dmytro Razumkov, in a Facebook statement.

Ukrainian authorities have offered to help with the investigation of the plane crash.

“We’re preparing a group of specialists in order to help with the search operation and the investigation of the cause of the crash,” Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk, said.

‘Body parts were lying around everywhere’

AP journalists who reached the crash site saw a wide field of debris scattered across farmland, the dead laying among shattered pieces of the aircraft.

Their possessions — a child’s cartoon-covered electric toothbrush, a stuffed animal, luggage and electronics — stretched everywhere.

Resident Din Mohammad Qassemi said he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack on US forces in Iraq in revenge for the killing of Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani when he heard the crash.

“I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere,” he told Associated Press.



Photo:

Thousands of Boeing 737-800s are used by airlines around the world. (AP: Mohammad Nasiri)

“At first I thought [the Americans] have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around everywhere.”

Rescuers in masks shouted over the noise of hovering helicopters as they arrived at the scene. They quickly realised there would be no survivors.

“The only thing that the pilot managed to do was steer the plane towards a soccer field near here instead of a residential area back there,” witness Aref Geravand said. “It crashed near the field and in a water canal.”

Tehran nuclear deal could hamper Boeing’s assistance in crash investigation

Boeing issued a brief statement on Twitter acknowledging the crash.

External Link:

@Boeing: We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.

Boeing, like other airline manufacturers, typically assists in crash investigations.

However, that effort in this case could be affected by the US sanctions campaign in place on Iran since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.

Why the killing of General Soleimani is such a big deal
The death of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani is a watershed moment, even in the long and bloody history of Middle East conflict.

The Boeing 737-800 is a very common single-aisle, twin-engine jetliner used for short to medium-range flights.

Thousands of the planes are used by airlines around the world.

Introduced in the late 1990s, it is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months following two deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

A number of Boeing 737-800 aircraft have been involved in deadly accidents over the years.

In March 2016, a Flydubai 737-800 from Dubai crashed while trying to land at Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia, killing 62 people onboard.

Another 737-800 flight from Dubai, operated by Air India Express, crashed in May 2010 while trying to land in Mangalore, India, killing more than 150 onboard.

Reuters/AP

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Australian shares, US futures rebound after Iran says it doesn’t want war


Australia

The Australian share market has closed lower, but pulled back from steeper earlier losses, after Iran’s foreign minister said its strikes against US forces in Iraq “concluded proportionate measures in self-defence” following the US killing of an Iranian general.

Key points:

  • US officials have confirmed rockets have been fired at the Al-Asad and Erbil airbases in Iraq, which host US forces
  • The Australian share market and US stock market futures fell sharply on the initial news
  • Markets recovered some of those losses in the afternoon as the Iranian foreign minister said “self-defence measures” had “concluded”

In an escalation feared by markets, US officials this morning confirmed rockets had been fired at the Al-Asad and Erbil airbases in Iraq, which host US forces.

US stock market futures initially fell sharply in response to the news, with S&P 500 and Dow Jones futures both falling as much as 1 per cent.

The Australian share market has also took a hit, with the ASX 200 also down close to a per cent at its worst.

Tokyo’s Nikkei initially fell more than 2 per cent, while New Zealand’s main index also lost more than 1 per cent.

However, US futures recovered in afternoon trade, after Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the regime had “concluded proportionate measures in self-defence” and did “not seek escalation or war”, while adding “but will defend ourselves against any aggression”.

External Link:

@JZarif (Iran's Foreign Minister): "Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched. We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression."

Australia’s share market followed the recovery in US futures, closing just 0.1 per cent lower for the day at 6,818 for the ASX 200 index.

Gold was the major beneficiary of the tensions, having jumped around $US35 an ounce this morning to around $US1,610/ounce as investors sought safe havens amid fears of an escalating conflict between the US and Iran.

That briefly took it to a fresh Australian dollar record price of $2,351.86/ounce.

However, the precious metal eased back to $US1,592/ounce after the Iranian foreign minister’s tweet was seen as lowering tensions.

Oil prices have remained elevated, however, with Brent crude still more than 1 per cent higher at $US69.08 a barrel, although it had risen further in earlier trade.

Aussie dollar back below 69 US cents

The Australian dollar has fallen back below 69 US cents and is weaker against a basket of currencies, as the US dollar rises after America’s trade deficit fell to a three-year low.

By 5:13pm (AEDT) the local currency was worth 68.7 US cents.

The currency had traded above 70 US cents at the very start of the new year, but has tracked lower over the past week.

Stronger economic data out of the United States contributed to the Aussie dollar’s decline against the greenback overnight.

Market snapshot at 8:15am (AEDT):

  • ASX SPI futures +0.04pc at 6,767, ASX 200 (Tuesday’s close) +1.3pc at 6,826
  • AUD: 68.65 US cents, 52.35 British pence, 61.61 Euro cents, 75.53 Japanese yen, $NZ1.03
  • US: Dow Jones -0.4pc at 28,581, S&P 500 -0.3pc at 3,237, Nasdaq -0.03pc at 9,068
  • Europe: FTSE 100 -0.02pc at 7,573, DAX +0.8pc at 13,226, CAC -0.02pc at 6,012, Euro Stoxx 50 flat at 3,419
  • Commodities: Brent crude -1pc at $US68.21/barrel, spot gold +0.4pc at $US1,571.75/ounce

Amid the US-China trade dispute, US imports fell and exports rose in November, while the closely-watched goods deficit with China tumbled by more than 15 per cent.

The US services sector strengthened, with data showing an improvement in non-manufacturing business activity.

However, it was not only a stronger US dollar that hurt the Australian dollar. Domestically, analysts have begun to weigh up the economic impact of a devastating, and ongoing, bushfire season.

On Tuesday, the ANZ-Roy Morgan weekly survey of consumer confidence fell to its lowest level in more than four years.

“A drop in confidence at the start of the year is unusual and almost certainly reflects the impact of the catastrophic bushfires over the weekend,” said ANZ’s head of Australian economist David Plank.

ANZ’s monthly indicator of job advertisements fell 6.7 per cent in December, with economists also blaming the impact of the bushfires.

“Based on previous major natural disasters, such as Victoria’s Black Saturday fires and Queensland’s 2010-11 floods, the current bushfires could see a short-term negative impact on employment,” said ANZ senior economist Catherine Birch.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Emergency convoy overcomes Nullarbor’s ‘tyranny of distance’ to get fire-stranded motorists through


Norseman 6443

Almost 340 people have been successfully evacuated from roadhouses on a remote Nullarbor highway after becoming stranded by bushfires that have closed down the border between Western Australia and South Australia.

Key points:

  • The fires left more than 300 people stranded at Eyre Highway roadhouses
  • A brief change in conditions allowed them to be evacuated to Esperance
  • Authorities say the danger isn’t over and conditions may worsen this week

Fires burning around the small Goldfields town of Norseman have closed the Eyre Highway — the only sealed route between WA and SA — for the past eight days.

Nine separate fire fronts have destroyed more than 350,000 hectares and the area covered by the bushfire warning is bigger than the total land mass of the United Kingdom.

As fires continue to burn across the region, authorities today made use of a brief window of opportunity to move people from Caiguna along the highway to Norseman at the western end of the Nullarbor Plain, and then on to Esperance.



Photo:

A queue of cars and trucks is escorted on the Eyre Highway after being trapped by bushfire. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

‘Everyone bonded together’

Bunbury resident Margaret Fleming said she ran out of medication and her partner Michael Rowe also suffered health problems while stuck at Caiguna for six days.

The couple were returning from Christmas in South Australia.



Photo:

Margaret Fleming and Michael Rowe were part of the 338-member convoy escorted through. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

“It’s been very, very hot and my partner hasn’t been very well,” she said.

“The paramedics have been absolutely fabulous … they gave him an ECG (electrocardiogram) and checked his blood pressure every day.



Photo:

The Eyre Highway linking WA and South Australia has been closed since last week. (Twitter: Norseman Police)

“The people at the roadhouse were just fantastic.

“It was the middle of nowhere, but everyone just bonded together and helped one another.

“You didn’t know them but sometimes you’d get upset and start crying … someone would come up and give you a cuddle and tell you it was going to be all right.”



Photo:

Authorities have warned the danger posed by the bushfires is not over. (DFES: Evan Collis)

Road to remain closed as conditions worsen

Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Commissioner Darren Klemm said the 1,660-kilometre-long Eyre Highway would remain closed for the foreseeable future with lightning forecast this week.

“It is difficult to say [when it will be reopened] but I can assure you that the number one priority of DFES, the incident controller and the crews on the ground is to get the Eyre Highway open as soon as we possibly can,” he said.

“People need to understand it’s a unique location out here. Here we have the tyranny of distance and it has been a focus from day one to get that road back open.”

External Link:

BOM WA tweet: Satellite gif showing smoke from bushfires along Eyre Highway

DFES Superintendent Mark Bowen said firefighters had made good progress on all the fire fronts over the past couple of days, but conditions were set to get worse.

“We currently have nine fires that we are managing out of Kalgoorlie and they range from out at Balladonia through to Norseman and up to Coolgardie,” he said.

During the past week, authorities have flown in emergency supplies and set up first-aid posts in Caiguna.

Aerial checks planned to spot campers

Authorities closed the WA-SA border yesterday and worked to advise travellers from Border Village out to Caiguna about the evacuation plan.



Photo:

Hundreds of people were left stranded at Caiguna Roadhouse due to the bushfires and road closures. (Supplied: Ben Stamatovich/The Drone Way)

Firefighters, police and Main Roads crews would be utilised during the operation.

“Once we’ve got all of the travellers off that we’re aware of, we’ll do a scan along the highway,” Superintendent Bowen said.

“We’re also using aircraft, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft along the highway just trying to identify anyone that may be camping in other areas.”



Photo:

Bushfires burning near Norseman have blanketed the remote town in smoke for weeks. (Supplied: Lynn Webb)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


What will it take to put these mega-fires out?


Adelaide 5000

The heavens have reluctantly opened, bringing a few millimetres of rain to the scorched south-east, but authorities say it can actually hinder their efforts to fight bushfires.

Key points:

  • A cool change has brought temporary relief for the fire-ravaged south-east, but rain can hamper firefighting efforts
  • Rain can prevent back-burning, making it harder to build control lines and lead to patchy burnt areas that can flare up again
  • For rain to extinguish the fires, it will require inches of steady falls over an extended period

Up to 15 millimetres was recorded over 24 hours across some parts of the fire zone. In East Gippsland, Bairnsdale recorded 12mm, Nowa Nowa 6mm and Buchan 5.2mm.

Some areas only got a sprinkling that left nothing in the gauges.

So what will it take to get these mega-fires out?

Greg Allen, spokesperson for New South Wales Rural Fire Service, said while the cooler conditions were welcome, rain was not a good thing in all cases.

“It can hamper efforts to put in back-burning, those tactical firefighting operations that we use at times to strengthen containment lines,” he said.


Video: The fire which hit Corryong, Cudgewa, Tintaldra and Towong is likely to burn for weeks.

(ABC News)

Work to clear fuel around the current fires to try and stop them spreading continues apace before conditions are expected to deteriorate again later this week.

According to Thomas Duff, a bushfire behaviour expert from the University of Melbourne, light rain can also make it difficult for heavy machinery to put in control lines.

“What [firefighters] do is drive around the perimeter of the fire and push away the fuel and make what they call a mineral-earth break that makes this line of dirt all the way around the fire.

“So you are stopping the fire by taking the fuel away.”

The rain can hamper these efforts because it makes things slippery and difficult to operate the machinery, evidenced by a fire vehicle overturning on a slippery track in Victoria on Sunday.

As it happened, bushfire-hit communities take stock ahead of worsening conditions

External Link:

RFS todays focus

A small amount of rain can also be a nuisance because it can put out some of the fire but not all, resulting in patchy fires within the control lines.

“Having unburnt areas within your control lines is actually quite dangerous because they can be a source of new fires or spotfires when things dry out again,” Dr Duff said.

So what will it take to put the fires out?

Dr Duff said the fires could stop if:

  • there was sufficient rain over a prolonged period to wet the fuels — this is potentially sooner around the Queensland border but could be months away in Victoria
  • there was a long period without strong winds that allowed firefighters to contain the fires
  • they ran out of forest to burn (and the fire coming out to grassland where it is easier to suppress)

What you really want is lots of steady rain, that isn’t too hard, over an expended period.

Dr Duff said it was hard to say how much rain would be enough to stop the fires, particularly as the current rainfall deficit was unprecedented.

But we are talking inches of rain (one inch is around 25mm), not the couple of millimetres around at the moment.


Infographic:
There is rain around but it isn’t going to be enough to put the fires out in the south-east.
(Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology )

External Link:

Robyn Wong

But a lot of rain can also be a problem.

Soils in very dry landscapes can become hydrophobic — water just slides off rather than soaking in — which can result in flash flooding.

Dr Duff said there was a fatality from flash flooding after major bushfires in 2003 which stretched from Canberra into northern Victoria.

When fire is being pushed by strong winds, very little can be done to stop it, but a lull in hot and gusty conditions can give firefighters a chance to douse the flames.

But Dr Duff said that would be a huge effort at this point.

“When you look at the length of perimeter that needs to be built, this is pretty unprecedented. It hasn’t really been done in Australia before,” he said.

“We’re in the millions of hectares now, which is pretty unusual.”

The length and breadth of the season is also a factor. In New South Wales, the fire season has been going on for months already, and Dr Duff said in Victoria the season could still go on for months.

External Link:

RFS put in a hand made rake-hoe control line during the Christmas period

“That long period of time means it’s a very difficult period and a huge amount of work for the firefighters to actually stay vigilant and stay active to be able to control the fire.”

Then there could also be the chance that the fires burn into terrain where they are easier to fight, or into the ocean.

Fires in forests burn at a far greater intensity because of high fuel loads; if they moved into grassland, where there is less fuel, it would be easier for firefighters to get on top of them.

What’s the forecast?

There is still no widespread rain on the forecast for southern Australia — there isn’t even the chance of a good break in the immediate future.

Sadly, it’s currently looking like there will be another peak in fire weather late this week.

In the north, things are starting to look decidedly more tropical and there is hope that the monsoon finally making its way down could break up the hot air that has been brewing over central Australia.

There is even a cyclone spinning up near Broome.


Infographic:
Cyclone Blake is predicted to impact the Kimberley and Pilbara coasts.
(Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology )

The major climate drivers have now returned to neutral conditions, meaning there is no big push to wetter or drier conditions than normal over the coming months.

But for southern Australia that is a bit of an empty statement — summer in the south is normally hot and dry.

Typically the fire season in South Australia and Victoria would only be just beginning, with the worst conditions coming late in summer.

Dr Duff said we wouldn’t expect widespread rainfall in Victoria until the autumn break, which is typically expected around Anzac Day.


Infographic:
This map is looking decidedly less brown than it has in recent months.
(Supplied: BOM)

Stay across our bushfire coverage:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


What do Humphrey B. Bear, Fat Cat and Mulligrubs all have in common?


Adelaide 5000

What do Humphrey B. Bear, Fat Cat, The Book Place, The Curiosity Show and Mulligrubs all have in common?

They were all produced in Adelaide in the 1980s and 1990s — a heyday for children’s television production in the South Australian capital.

Now, only the ABC’s own Behind the News remains as a daily show on the small screen.

What shows were based in Adelaide?

Children’s television shows based in Adelaide over the years include Chuck Finn, Finders Keepers, The New Adventures of Black Beauty, C’mon Kids, The Music Shop, The Fairies, Pick Your Face and Guess What?

Probably Adelaide’s most famous export, though, was Humphrey B. Bear.

The mute trouserless bear first appeared on television screens in 1965 as part of children’s variety show The Channel Niners.

His own show, Here’s Humphrey, ended in 2009 when the company that made it, Banksia Productions, was wound up.

He is now owned by Ozpix Entertainment and lives at Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast.

External Link:

The Here's Humphrey theme song.

Wilson Main was the manager of Banksia Productions in the 1990s.

The company produced Humphrey and other shows for Channel 9.

Now a lecturer in film and TV at the University of South Australia, Dr Main said it was “fantastic” working on Humphrey.

He said the secret to the show’s success was its tight focus on children aged two to four.

“They’re fascinated with characters in suits,” Dr Main said.

“But as they get a bit older — get to four and five — they find those programs to be too young for them, but Humphrey met the needs of children two to four very well.

“And it was researched and we were very careful about what we shot.

“Children were very fascinated about Humphrey and the people who made it cared a lot about that so I think that’s one of the reasons it was so successful.”

Humphrey’s rival, Fat Cat, was also created in Adelaide.

He last had his own show in 1991.

External Link:

The Book Place was on Channel 7 from 1991 to 2003.

A weird show featuring a blue screen

Mulligrubs was on air from 1988 to 1996, featuring a disembodied female face as the Mulligrub along with songs and segments aimed at pre-schoolers.

Redgum band member John Schumann sang on the show for three years.

Schumann said he “was very much stepping out of my comfort zone” but “reasoned that with little kids of my own I really had no grounds to refuse” to take up the role.

“I enjoyed being reacquainted with many of the songs of my childhood — and some of the songs we sang around the campfire when I was in the 1st Torrens Park Scout Troop,” he said.

“Not having worked very much in television, every day was a school day in that I learned a great deal.

External Link:

The Mulligrubs face was made by painting actor Diana Kidd in blue make-up.

“Rather perversely, I also enjoyed the reaction of my mates in the music industry, some of whom were way too cool to be singing songs for kids.

“I remember receiving a phone call from Tommy Emmanuel [from Dragon] who was on tour and was watching me on morning television in his hotel room.

“‘Shooey, Shooey,’ he almost shouted down the phone, ‘There’s this bloke singing a song about frogs or ducks or some s*** on some television program for children — seriously, he looks and sounds just like you!'”

Stars lured from interstate for shows

As well as Humphrey, Banksia Productions made a show called Guess What?, a game show in which children had to guess what a cartoonist was drawing to win.

Hey Hey It’s Saturday cartoonist Andrew Fyfe would fly in from Melbourne each week filming was done in Adelaide.

“I loved working with my co-hosts, the contestants and the crew,” Fyfe said.

“It was definitely a fun environment to work in.

External Link:

Andrew Fyfe and Alison Brahe on Guess What? in 1992.

“Banksia Productions were producing a couple of good quality children shows at the time. Here’s Humphrey was a long-time institution and C’mon Kids was very popular.

“The production crew seemed to understand what kept kids entertained and they were very dedicated. The talent was very good, too.

“… When Banksia Productions folded in 2009, so did the shows.”

So what happened?

Australian Children’s Television Foundation chief executive Jenny Buckland said a lot of the children’s television content produced in Adelaide was spurred by new regulations introduced in 1979.

They required the commercial networks to deliver minimum levels of P (preschool) and C (school-aged) children’s content.

“Those regulations are still in place (although the networks are campaigning to have them scrapped), but the aggregation of the networks over time means more content is produced in Sydney rather than regionally, and the style of content produced for children has also changed,” Ms Buckland said.

“There is much more animation for children now than there was, and this is often co-produced with international partners.

“It’s also a tougher market with the kids audience deserting the free TV commercial networks, so they spend less on content as a result.”

While it is easy to tell where live-action shows are made, it is less so with animations.

External Link:

A trailer for The New Adventures of Figaro Pho.

Luke Jurevicius produced the animated show The New Adventures of Figaro Pho in Adelaide.

But with no dialogue and a fantasy setting, there is no sign where it was made.

He said animated shows were a global production with a global market.

They can be more easily dubbed into other languages and accents.

“I think that it’s more internationally adaptable,” Jurevicius said.

“I think that certain types of animation are more cost effective.”

He outsources “the guts of the production” to India.

Future still open for more Adelaide shows

Mario Andreacchio was a director of The New Adventures of Black Beauty, which was shot around Adelaide from 1990–1992, along with other children’s television shows and movies.

He said the audience is about the same now “but there are more doors” — from commercial networks to Foxtel, Netflix and YouTube.

“The spread of whether one can fund a production now is actually very different because there’s the same amount of money but they’re spread over lots of little smaller operators and none of them on their own can finance substantial television, particularly when it comes to kids, because ultimately the commercial stations rely on advertising and we’re all very conscious about what gets advertised to our kids,” he said.

“Everything like fast food and toys becomes difficult so the advertising revenue becomes harder.”

He said the business was “always really tough” and it came down to having good ideas and television production skills.

External Link:

An episode of The New Adventures of Black Beauty directed by Mario Andreacchio.

Dr Main agreed there was still a chance more children’s television could be made in Adelaide.

“People say, ‘there was an awful lot of children’s television made at the time, you were so lucky and now we don’t have anything being made locally’,” he said.

“My argument is, Humphrey aside, we got on a plane to Sydney and we went and sold another show called The Music Shop to Channel 10 and Pick Your Face to Channel 9 and then Jenifer Watts came along and had another show called The Fairies.

“I think there’s always the opportunity to sell more programs to networks.

“You’ve just to get the pitch right and at the right price and I think it can be done.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


At the SCG, this was the day that didn’t matter


Sydney 2000

It’s strange to wake up on the morning of a Test match and feel like it doesn’t matter at all. To have the mental space that would normally be fizzing with anticipation instead be filled with a large slow shrug.

If you opened a popular map on your phone to find a bus to the Sydney Cricket Ground for the Test against New Zealand on Friday, you were greeted with a bushfire warning tile. Click that and the east coast of Australia appeared, licked at by bright red cartoon flames.

There were buttons to report blocked roads, buttons to share your location with loved ones, click-throughs to fire services or to check the toxicity of the smoky air around you.

These buttons are not going anywhere, because fire conditions are predicted to worsen. Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide all have Bureau of Meteorology listings for smoke haze from burning forests and coasts.

Air quality forecasts of ‘poor’ have been issued for Sydney for Saturday, the second day of the Test. One can only hope for the third, the main fundraising day for the Jane McGrath Foundation and its charitable breast cancer work.

The first-day crowd wasn’t deterred, with a rousing minute of applause before play for those affected by fire. Batsman Marnus Labuschagne said the day didn’t feel notably different, but that he didn’t want eyes on his team that day.



Photo:

Australian captain Tim Paine has said his team will play until they’re told the air quality isn’t good enough. (AAP: James Gourley)

“If all we did was create a distraction or a bit of enjoyment for people in these tough times, I think that’s a win for us,” Labuschagne said.

“The focus should be on the firefighters and what they’re doing for the community, because that’s the most important thing at this point in time.”

It was a distinct separation of priorities from a 25-year-old who had just scored a Test century for Australia. That separation stood out given a lack of the same elsewhere.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been trying to link his office with cricket and fire relief for months. He had on-field photo opportunities at the PM’s XI match in Canberra game in October, then attended training ahead of the Brisbane Test in November.

External Link:

@ScottMorrisionMP: Going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our firefighters and fire-impacted communities, I’m sure our boys will give them something to cheer for.

Fires had started in New South Wales by then, so he wrote on Twitter: “Going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our firefighters and fire-impacted communities, I’m sure our boys will give them something to cheer for.”

Over the weeks since, fires have flared in every state. The running tally is 5.8 million hectares of land burned. On New Year’s Day, Morrison drew flak for staying at Kirribilli to meet the home and visiting Test teams, and using them to double down on his inspiration message.

“Australians will be gathered, whether it’s at the SCG or around television sets all around the country, and they’ll be inspired by the great feats of our cricketers from both sides of the Tasman, and I think they’ll be encouraged by the spirit shown by Australians.”

It’s curious why this link keeps being attempted. Perhaps national teams offer safe territory for politicians to appear relatable. Perhaps a patriotic impression of exceptional Australian resilience might reflect onto the disaster at hand, angling the horror to find a positive.

Perhaps if this year’s Sydney Test was the deciding match in a classic series, this idea might get a tiny bit more traction. But it’s especially strange in a series that has already been decided, against a team that has been thoroughly outdone.

New Zealand’s star batsman is laid up with fever. The star bowler is home with a broken hand.

The current team includes understudy spinners Todd Astle and Will Sommerville, Tom Latham as an understudy captain, an opening seamer in Colin de Grandhomme who is at the bottom end of the medium-pace bracket, back-up keeper Tom Blundell as a makeshift opener, another keeper Glenn Phillips as an emergency bat, and discarded opener Jeet Raval recalled to first drop.



Photo:

Colin de Grandhomme (left) isn’t exactly the quickest opening bowler in world cricket. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Raval’s last nine innings have returned 66 runs averaging 7, in which time Labuschagne, in the corresponding spot for Australia, has returned 814 runs at 102.

It shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the game to pump up this Test match. Day one played out exactly that way, with New Zealand toiling for three wickets and Australia eyeing another huge total with 283 on the board.

But in the end, we could be playing the 2005 Ashes multiplied by Michael Jordan’s Space Jam out here at the SCG, and it would still mean exactly nothing right at the moment. Even the laudable fundraising of McGrath Day will sit awkwardly against such a tangible widespread threat.

Australia is currently a country where people are hiding for safety in the ocean, kicking through the ruins of lives, queuing to evacuate by Navy ship, getting helicopter drops of toilet paper to avoid disease outbreaks in makeshift truck-stop towns, pinning medals at funerals onto toddlers who don’t understand either.


Video: Mass evacuations are underway in Mallacoota as tourists and locals are taken to Navy vessels.

(ABC News)

Of course our national teams matter. They can bring us together and create collective euphoria, but not if we’re already collectively in grief. So by all means let the show go on for those who want it, but it doesn’t need headline billing.

Even up until the backlash from New Year’s Day, the Prime Minister intended to be at the SCG for the first day. Traditionally a political good day out. Hop on for a commentary stint, get on camera in the stands.

Belatedly, there was a change of plans. There are times when the cricket doesn’t matter at all.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘It’s tough’: Nick Kyrgios breaks down in tears over bushfires, leads Australia to ATP Cup win


Brisbane 4000

Nick Kyrgios sent Australia on their way to a maiden ATP Cup win over Germany before breaking down in tears as he talked about the nation’s bushfire crisis.

Australia v Germany

  • Nick Kyrgios (AUS) def Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) 6-4, 7-6 (7/4)
  • Alex de Minaur (AUS v Alexander Zverev (GER)
  • Chris Guccione / John Peers (AUS) v Kevin Krawietz / Andreas Mies (GER)

The Canberran had just defeated German world number 35 Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 7-6 (7/4), pounding down 20 aces along the way, which will see him give $4,000 to the bushfire appeal, as he has pledged to give $200 per ace for the summer.

But when he was asked about it in his post-match interview, the 24-year-old Australian shed a tear.

“I don’t really care about the praise too much,” Kyrgios said.

“We [tennis players] got the ability and the platform to do something, my home town is Canberra and we’ve got the most toxic air in the world at the moment, that’s pretty sad.

“It’s tough, sorry,” Kyrgios said as he broke down.

External Link:

@ATPCup: "It's pretty sad, it's tough. @NickKyrgios speaks about the bushfires in Australia after his win over Struff in #Brisbane.

“It’s all going to all the families, firefighters, animals, everyone who is losing homes, losing families — it’s a real thing. It’s bigger than tennis.”

Kyrgios had earlier broken Struff down in a dominant display to give Australia a 1-0 lead in the tie.

He kicked off his own serving for the match with an ace and was praised by team captain Lleyton Hewitt for the display.

“Nick came out and played fantastic right from the start, unbelievable serving display,” Hewitt said.



Photo:

Nick Kyrgios was not shy of trying some trademark acrobatic shots in his ATP Cup match. (AP: Tertius Pickard)

Kyrgios displayed his usual flair for dramatic shotmaking, even if his attempt at a tweener failed to clear the net, while De Minaur displayed great heart.

The 20-year-old Australian roared back from one set to love down to beat world number seven Alexander Zverev for the first time in five meetings.

De Minaur looked to be on the ropes after dropping the first set but he managed to doggedly hold on, saving three of four points in the second set to force a tie-break which he took 7-3 as Zverev’s serve faltered.

External Link:

ATP Cup tweet: .@NickKyrgios secures #TeamAustralia's first-ever #ATPCup match win def. Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4 7-6(4). #AUSGER #Brisbane

The German star had experienced issues with his serve late last year, specifically at the US Open and it again hampered him in his first match of 2020 as he coughed up 14 double faults for the match, half of which came during the second set.

It was in many ways a capitulation from the German, who destroyed a racket after seemingly having had De Minaur on the rack, when leading by a set and a break at 4-2 in the second set.

But De Minaur channelled team captain Hewitt in his hey day and dug deep, forcing Zverev to put him away, and when he held serve to be 3-4 down, the Aussie captain told him he was “in this match”.

The Australian world number 18 managed to get the break back from the German world number 7 and took the second set in a tie-break.

Zverev, fighting his own mental demons, waned and the Australian only got stronger and roared out to a 4-0 final set lead before eventually taking the match and the tie for Australia with a 4-6, 7-6 (7/3) 6-2 victory.

De Minaur then revealed post-match that he was spurred on by the haunting memories of a 2018 Davis Cup singles loss to Zverev, where the Australian had led two sets to one before losing in five.

“The win is definitely up there for me,” De Minaur said.

“I had a battle that was in the back of my mind from my Davis Cup debut where a tough five set match got away from me, so this one feels great.

Chris Guccione and John Peers then made it a 3-0 sweep over the Germans, with a 6-3, 6-4 doubles win over Kevin Krawiets and Andreas Mies.

Australia will next play Davis Cup finalists Canada on Sunday, who beat Stefanos Tsitsipas’s Greece 3-0 earlier on Friday in Brisbane.

The top team from all six pools, plus the two next-best teams, will progress to the quarter-finals in Sydney later next week.

The new team tournament features matches in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.

In other ties on Friday he United States were surprise losers, going down 2-1 to Norway after Casper Ruud beat John Isner in three sets and the doubles pairing of Ruud and Viktor Durasovic beat Austin Krajicek and Rajeev Ram 4-6, 6-3, 10-5 in a match that went to a deciding match tie-break.

Belgium had a clean sweep over Moldova 3-0.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Here’s why the US killing Iranian General Qassem Soleimani is such a big deal


Iran, Islamic Republic Of

The death of Major General Qassem Soleimani is a watershed moment, even in the long and bloody history of Middle East conflict.

Key points:

  • The US says Soleimani and his Quds Force were “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members”
  • Soleimani led Iran’s overseas actions in the last couple of decades
  • Killing him will take US tensions with Iran to a dangerous new level

The head of the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, he has long been seen by Israel and the United States as one of the most dangerous and potent figures in the region.

Qassem Soleimani had the backing of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and a hero to many Shiite Muslims.

However, he was also popular or at least respected in many quarters of the Middle East.

In a region where inept, corrupt or hypocritical leaders abound, he was seen by his supporters as charismatic and, most importantly, effective.

External Link:

Twitter Sophie McNeill: HUGE HUGE news out of the Middle East. The US has just assassinated arguably what is Iran’s most important military leader.

He was responsible for running foreign military actions, coordinating a network of political and military advisers, militias and terrorist groups which have delivered Iran a decisive role stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.

Killing him takes the Trump administration’s confrontation with Iran to a dangerous new level.

General Soleimani fought for Iran in the Iran-Iraq war, reportedly leading reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines.

Back then, the US backed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its confrontation with the new Islamic republic of Iran and the Islamic revolutionaries who had deposed the Shah.

General Soleimani and his colleagues in the Iranian military built their strength in the region, supporting a range of tactics including terror attacks and also arming and training groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, which grew amidst the chaos of the Lebanese civil war and the Israeli occupation and has come to hold sway over much of the country.



Photo:

Qassem Soleimani had the backing of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Wikimedia Commons: Khamenei.ir)

But it was when the US and some allies, including Australia, toppled Saddam Hussein and invaded Iraq in 2003, that General Soleimani was presented with an historic opportunity to exert, then consolidate, unprecedented Iranian influence in Baghdad.

Iraqi dissidents and militiamen who’d been given refuge in Iran moved back into Baghdad and General Soleimani and his colleagues trained and armed new and old allies alike to launch attacks on US troops.

Underlining the significance of this period, when the US Department of Defence claimed responsibility for his killing, it accused General Soleimani and his Quds Force of being “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

The most volatile point in the Iran conflict


Video: Counter-terror expert says Iran is pushing itself into war by playing 'hardball'.

(ABC News)

The US imposed sanctions on General Soleimani in 2011, accusing him of a plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington.

But he would soon be delivered another opportunity by the instability wracking the region when Syria began to descend into civil war that same year.

General Soleimani spearheaded Iran’s efforts to shore up the government of Bashar al-Assad.

How likely is a US-Iran conflict? US-Iran tensions are on the rise. Here’s what that could mean for Australia, the region and world oil prices.

Then, when that conflict gave the Sunni Muslim extremists of the Islamic State (IS) group the chance to conquer vast tracts of territory, first in Syria and then across the border in Iraq, General Soleimani’s militias played a key role in the fightback against IS.

In an extraordinary irony, they benefited from the US air strikes that played such a crucial role in defeating the terror group, and consolidated their grip on much of the country.

It was, however, always a begrudging, parallel effort and we are now witnessing the most volatile point in a conflict that has been slowly reigniting for some time.

Soleimani ‘approved the attack on US embassy’



Photo:

Protesters and militia fighters gather outside the main gate of the US embassy. (Reuters: Thaier al-Sudani)

The US Department of Defence accused General Soleimani of orchestrating, “attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months — including the attack on December 27th — culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel.”

“General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week,” it said in a statement.

In the December 27 incident, a US civilian contractor was killed during a rocket attack on a US military base in northern Iraq.

The US military retaliated by carrying out air strikes against Iranian-linked militia fighters in Iraq and Syria. This in turn led to hundreds of pro-Iranian protesters and militia attempting to storm the US embassy in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve.


Video: Qassem Soleimani killed in an apparent United States missile strike

(ABC News)

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif called the killing “an extremely dangerous and foolish escalation,” and a former commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohasen Rezaei, vowed “vigorous revenge on America”.

The son of a farmer, from a poor area in eastern Iran, Qassem Soleimani was softly spoken, calculating and lethal, leaving an extraordinary mark on a region accustomed to the failings of big men with big mouths.

When news of his death was announced in Baghdad, some protesters, who had been on the streets opposing Iranian influence, celebrated.

But the revenge promised by his supporters could come on any of the many fronts where he has built Iran’s power and influence.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Gypsy Joker caught speeding at 227 kph in Ford Mustang


Two Wells 5501

A motorcycle gang member has lost his licence after he was allegedly caught driving at more than twice the speed limit in a 110 kilometre per hour zone on a South Australian highway.

Key points:

  • Police said the Gypsy Joker gang member was detected driving at excessive speed in November
  • The 38-year-old has been charged with offences including dangerous driving
  • It comes as SA Police launch a new road safety campaign

The 38-year-old man, from Dublin in the state’s lower north, was yesterday formally reported for offences including dangerous driving, excessive speeding and failing to truthfully answers questions.

Police said the Gypsy Joker gang member was driving a Ford Mustang along Port Wakefield Road at Two Wells on November 7 when he was detected speeding at 227 kph.

The man has had his car impounded and lost his licence for six months.

Police said the man would be summonsed to appear at Elizabeth Magistrates Court.

Yesterday, police launched a campaign targeting drug driving, partly in response to last year’s high death toll on South Australian roads.

In 2019, 113 people were killed — the highest toll in nine years — including 12 people aged under 20.

Police said almost a quarter of fatal crashes involved drugs, and the new campaign aims to counter that trend.

“We don’t want to see a repeat of last year’s number of lives lost, so we are starting the year with a new campaign aimed specifically at drug driving,” Superintendent Bob Gray said.

“Road users can expect to see these ads appear on TV, radio, as well as on billboards throughout the state starting from this Sunday.”

Last year’s road deaths included 21 pedestrians and 17 motorcyclists.

More than 700 people were seriously injured.

External Link:

Drug Driving on Methamphetamine: South Australia Police

In a separate incident overnight, a 31-year-old Novar Gardens man was arrested early this morning after a police pursuit at West Croydon in suburban Adelaide.

Police said the man was driving erratically in a Holden sedan and attempted to stop the car but it sped off and crashed.

Officers used capsicum spray to stop the suspect, who has been charged with driving dangerously and resisting police.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Julian Castro leaves Democrats’ 2020 race as more famous front-runners remain


United States

Julian Castro, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant who became San Antonio mayor and a US housing secretary, has suspended his 2020 Democratic presidential run in a race overshadowed by more famous liberals.

Key points:

  • Mr Castro was a fierce critic of Donald Trump and championed immigrants’ rights
  • He had struggled to raise money and build a profile in the crowded Democrat race
  • His departure could magnify criticism about the Democrats’ lack of diversity

The departure of the only Latino from the campaign, a month or so ahead of early nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, leaves 14 Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in November.

Mr Castro, 45, a rising star in the Democratic Party, did not garner enough support to compete against better-known candidates, including leading progressive candidates US Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

External Link:

@JulianCastro tweet: It’s with profound gratitude to all of our supporters that I suspend my campaign for president today. I’m so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together. I’m going to keep fighting for an America where everyone counts—I hope you’ll join me in that fight.

He had struggled to raise money for what was seen as a long-shot bid, and another Texan who was seeking the party’s nomination before dropping out in November — former US Representative Beto O’Rourke — siphoned some attention from Mr Castro in the early days of his campaign.

“It’s with profound gratitude to all of our supporters that I suspend my campaign for president today,” Mr Castro wrote in a Twitter post.

“But with only a month until the Iowa caucuses, and given the circumstances of this campaign season, I have determined that it simply isn’t our time.”

Castro’s departure magnifies Democrats’ diversity criticism
External Link:

@JoeBiden tweet: It was a privilege to work with @JulianCastro during the Obama Administration, and a true honor to be in this talented field of candidates with him. He led his historic campaign with grace and heart and used his platform to lift the voices of others. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Mr Castro championed immigrants’ rights and was a strong critic of Mr Trump and his policies.

He did not flinch from criticising his fellow Democrats either, notably going after former US vice-president Joe Biden, the early front-runner among Democrats, during a September 12 debate.

However, other Democratic candidates posted gracious messages for Mr Castro on Twitter after he announced his withdrawal from the race.

The people trying to beat Trump
These are the 15 Democrats still in the race for president in 2020.

Among them, Mr Biden said the contender had led his campaign with “grace and heart,” while Mr Sanders praised him for his “fight for a humane immigration system”, while Ms Warren thanked him for being a “powerful voice”.

Mr Castro’s departure could intensify criticism that, for a party that prides itself on its diversity, most of the top Democratic candidates are white.

Asian-American Andrew Yang was the only minority candidate to appear beside six others in the most recent debate on December 19.

The race for the party’s presidential nomination remains up for grabs just weeks before the first votes are cast in Iowa on February 3, with the New Hampshire primary to follow on February 11.

There is a three-way battle at the top of national opinion polls among Mr Biden, Mr Sanders and Ms Warren.

Reuters

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘The water kept rising’: Jakarta residents inundated by flooding that killed 30


Indonesia

Nidya Desianti and her husband had just finished paying off their mortgage and were excited to start the new year living in their new home in Jakarta.

Key points:

  • At least 30 people have been killed and more than 35,000 to be evacuated, some of them on inflatable rafts
  • Water levels rose to 2 metres high in some parts of South-East Asia’s biggest city
  • President Joko Widodo said the safety of citizens was a priority

Then, the floods hit.

Heavy rains inundated South-East Asia’s biggest capital city on Wednesday, displacing more than 35,000 people and leaving at least 30 dead, according the to the country’s disaster mitigation agency.

Indonesian media reported some of the dead were electrocuted, while others drowned, were killed in landslides or died of hypothermia.

Just after lunch on New Year’s Day, Ms Desianti received a text alert from the Ministry of Communication and Information, telling her to evacuate.



Photo:

A small boy swims in the water flooding the streets. (Reuters: Willy Kurniawan)

“We were running outside, but it was too late since cars couldn’t pass on the road anymore,” she told the ABC.



Photo:

Nidya Desianti with her husband and child on a recent outing. On Wednesday, their home was one of tens of thousands flooded in Jakarta. (Supplied: Nidya Desianti)

“I started to panic when the electricity was suddenly cut off and I felt the water kept rising.”



Photo:

Ms Desianti had just moved into her new home when the floods hit. (Supplied: Nidya Desianti)

“But I could go nowhere, since outside of our home, the water was already around 2 metres [high].”

She said the water in the ground floor of her new house was at knee-height.

Ms Desianti, who is a relative of ABC journalist Erwin Renaldi, was then told a rescue team was on its way to evacuate her family with about 10 other people in a small inflatable boat, but the wait took around two hours.

“It wasn’t a big boat, just a small rubber one — my baby was sleeping when we hopped on the boat,” she said.

“She started crying when she was woken up — her feet got wet when water started entering the boat.”

Ms Desianti is now staying with her in-laws and although the water has begun to recede, she has no plan to come back home anytime soon, as she’s “afraid the flood is coming again”.

She doesn’t regret buying a home in the area, in Condet in Jakarta’s east, but knows the area suffered from a large flood a decade ago.

“Now we just need to have a better plan to anticipate if they are come again,” she said.



Photo:

Aerial photos posted by the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management show the extent of the flooding. (Twitter: BNPB Indonesia)

Budi Setyowati, a psychologist living in the West Java city of Bogor, about 55 kilometres from Jakarta, said it was the first time her house had been hit by flash flooding.

Bogor is famously known as “the city of rain”, but Ms Setyowati told the ABC that normally she never takes precautions if rains come.



Photo:

Bogor psychologist Budi Setyowati said she had never seen flash flooding before her home was hit. (Supplied: Budi Setyowati)

Ms Setyowati said the water came into her house very quickly and she had no time to move her belongings.

“It was just terrible, I have never experienced this,” she said.

But the situation outside her home was even worse, she said, with surrounding houses severely flooded.



Photo:

Household objects were floating and electricity was cut off in homes in Bogor. (Supplied: Budi Setyowati)

“At the moment I can’t go anywhere, the streets are still flooded, and cars and motorbikes are underwater,” she said.

“The water inside my home has receded, but it left mud behind. There’s no water, no electricity, so I can’t clean.”

Benny, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name, works for Jakarta-based charity organisation Dompet Dhuafa.

External Link:

Twitter Kantor Sar Jakarta: TIM RESCUE KANSAR JAKARTA MELAKUKAN PENELUSURAN DAERAH CIPINANG MELAYU GUNA EVAKUASI KORBAN (1/1)

He told the ABC their primary focus was on rescuing older people, pregnant women, sick people and those with disabilities.

“They were stranded at home and their special needs are not being fulfilled,” Benny said.

“Some of them are paralysed, they couldn’t move, so we need to carry them on our rescue vessels.”

He said the group had also rescued some animals.

“So far we already helped cats, dogs, and even birds, many of them trapped on the roof or on [electricity] poles.”

“We even found a dog who was swimming in the flood and we took him in.”

He said a challenge of rescuing people from flooded homes was that many lived in suburban areas with narrow streets, making it difficult for large rescue boats to navigate.



Photo:

An Indonesian soldier holds a cat through floodwaters on the outskirts of Jakarta. (AP: Achmad Ibrahim)

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said on Twitter that the areas most severely affected by the floods were Krukut, Ciliwung, Cakung and Sunter, and that authorities were using pumps, sandbags and water tankers in responding to the emergency.

“In facing floods in many areas of our country, the priority is the safety of citizens,” he said.

“I ordered all relevant agencies to work together to save the people, and to give peace to the people.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Fires could break containment lines in SA as temperatures soar, CFS warns


Adelaide 5000

Bushfires currently burning in South Australia could break containment lines, putting residents at higher risk, during another wave of extreme heat which will cross the state on Friday.

Key points:

  • The CFS says it is particularly concerned about the fire situation on Kangaroo Island
  • Fires could break containment lines as winds strengthen and temperatures rise above 40C
  • The CFS has urged people near existing fire grounds to enact their bushfire survival plans

As eastern Australia’s fire crisis deepens, severe to extreme fire danger has been declared in nine districts across SA, and temperatures in the mid-40s will be accompanied by hot northerly winds, ahead of a gusty change with possible lightning.

The County Fire Service (CFS) is currently battling several fires of concern, including at Ravine on Kangaroo Island, where more than 9,000 hectares of scrub and vegetation have been blackened.

A fire at Keilira in the state’s south-east has destroyed three homes, while a blaze which caused widespread blackouts on Eyre Peninsula has burnt through 11,500 hectares at Miltalie.

“If you live near any existing fires, you need to enact your bushfire survival plan as these fires may increase in ferocity,” CFS chief officer Mark Jones said yesterday.

“We’re particularly concerned about the communities and travellers on Kangaroo Island, with two fires burning [there].

“The fire conditions that we have, with a prolonged drought and very dry vegetation which is ready to burn — there’s a chance of very rapid fire spread.”

Follow our live blog for updates on bushfires and the evacuations.

There are concerns homes on Kangaroo Island have been lost after two fires merged near the Ravine Des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area.

“We anticipate that it will move in a southerly to south-easterly direction … if it breaks containment lines,” Mr Jones said.

The fireground is not far from another at Duncan, where a blaze was contained on Tuesday.



Photo:

The burnt remains of a ute at De Mole River on Kangaroo Island. (Supplied: Alison Alcock)

Poor mobile phone coverage on the island has made it difficult for volunteer firefighters to communicate, local MP Leon Bignell said.

However, 20 two-way radio sets were secured after a call was put out on social media.

“If you’re holidaying over there, be vigilant again and make sure you know what is happening in your localised area,” Emergency Services Minister Corey Wingard said.

Main focus on containment, CFS says

Adelaide is heading for a top of 42 degrees Celsius on Friday, with even hotter temperatures inland, including 45C at Renmark and Roseworthy, 46C at Port Augusta and Wudinna and 47C at Oodnadatta and Tarcoola.

“Temperatures will significantly increase across the state … with dry northerly winds strengthening,” meteorologist Jon Fisher said.

“Even with that south-westerly change — it will be a fairly strong and gusty south-westerly change as it moves across the state — that does bring a risky period in terms of fire weather.”

External Link:

Bureau of Meteorology, South Australia: A #FireWeatherWarning issued for #SouthAustralia. Severe to Extreme fire danger for Friday. Very hot & dry. NE-NW winds ahead of a strong & gusty SW-S change. Thunderstorms in the west, and areas of raised dust. Check warnings here: http://bom.gov.au/sa/warnings/ and follow @CFSAlerts

Extreme fire danger has been declared for the West Coast, Lower Eyre Peninsula, Mount Lofty Ranges, Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and Lower South East districts.

Severe Fire Danger is forecast for the Eastern Eyre Peninsula, the Mid North and the Murraylands.

The CFS said while the fire danger index was not as elevated as the day the Cudlee Creek fire started in catastrophic conditions two weeks ago, the situation was now different.

“We have a number of fires which are burning which we didn’t have on that day which are likely to break out. The ignition sources are already there on this occasion,” Mr Jones said.

“The main emphasis will be on containing the fires which are currently burning.

“If they do break out, the mission turns to making sure the people in harm’s way are safe.”

Arsonists have also been warned, after a fire which came close to a campground at Rapid Bay earlier this week was declared suspicious.

“If anyone out there sees or knows anything I call on them to contact police straight away, it’s stupid and it’s not to be tolerated and we need to act as swiftly as possible when we find these people,” Mr Wingard said.


Video: Witness John Koutrikas took this video of the fire at Rapid Bay.

(ABC News)

On Thursday, victims of the deadly Cudlee Creek fire in the Adelaide Hills were invited to attend a State Government-organised meeting at Hahndorf to discuss rebuilding options.

Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone said the economic cost of the fires could reach $100 million.

“We’re talking about 1,200 hectares of vineyard which have been damaged,” he said.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘The township will not be defendable’: Fire warnings start early ahead of worsening conditions


Batlow 2730

Evacuations are taking place across parts of southern New South Wales, with residents in the town of Batlow told their community will not be defendable if fire forecasts become a reality on Friday afternoon.

Key points:

  • The Dunns Road Bushfire has burned through 130,000 hectares in recent days
  • People in the town of Batlow have been told to leave, and that the town is not defendable
  • Kosciuszko visitors have until 10:00am tomorrow to evacuate

The Dunns Road fire, which is threatening the town, also prompted the evacuation of the iconic Kosciuszko National Park and a nearby prison, after burning through 130,000 hectares in recent days.

The Rural Fire Service designated a leave zone around the town and surrounding country on Thursday afternoon, saying residents had to get out urgently.

External Link:

NSW RFS tweet: Leave Zone – Batlow / Wondalga Dangerous conditions in Batlow, west of Blowering Dam. If you're in this area, particularly Batlow north to Wondalga & west of Blowering Dam, leave before tomorrow. It is not safe. For road closures go to @LiveTrafficNSW #nswrfs #nswfires

“If you are in this area, particularly in the general area from Batlow North to Wondalga, and west to Blowering Dam, you need to leave before [Friday],” the notice said.

“Fire is forecast to impact the township of Batlow [Friday] afternoon.

“The township will not be defendable.”

The RFS warned people to cancel plans to visit the town and its immediate surrounds. The area is home to 1,300 people.

The Dunns Road fire has burned consistently in a south-easterly direction in recent days from Tumut down towards Kosciuszko National Park.

The NSW Parks and Wildlife Service issued an evacuation alert on Thursday morning, giving visitors until 10:00am on Friday to leave the park.

Evacuation centres have been set up at Cooma Showground and Tumut Bowling Club, and the 155 inmates at the Mannus Correctional Centre, which is a short distance south of the fireground, are being evacuated by bus to another centre in Junee.

“The safety of our staff and inmates is paramount when deciding whether to evacuate a correctional centre,” Assistant Commissioner Kevin Corcoran from Corrective Services NSW said.

Follow our live blog for updates on bushfires and the evacuations.

Tourists have also been told to leave a wider area spreading across the Snowy Monaro region from Batlow to the Victorian border, including Kosciuszko, Adaminaby and Jindabyne.

Holidaymakers are being urged to leave the area before Saturday.

The fire, which has been burning at a watch and act level all day, is expected to flare up, before being exacerbated by extreme weather conditions sweeping south-eastern Australia on Saturday.

The fire has already prompted a massive decrease in tourism, with locals in Jindabyne, just east of Kosciuszko, telling the ABC of the town being deserted.



Photo:

The town of Batlow “will not be defendable”, according to the RFS. (Supplied: Wikimedia Commons)

More bushfire coverage:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


14 people and 2 dogs piled in to a tinny meant for 6 as flames lapped at the shore


Lake Conjola 2539

A New South Wales South Coast man has been hailed a “local hero” for ferrying stranded campers to safety on his boat, forced to watch as his own house burnt down.

Key points:

  • Seven children, seven adults and two dogs stayed on the 5-metre boat for three hours
  • They used clothing to cover their mouths and noses as smoke billowed around them
  • Three bodies have been found in the Lake Conjola area amid the South Coast fires

While fleeing the approaching firestorm on Tuesday, Lake Conjola resident Brett Cripps, 51, noticed tourists stuck on the shore near their caravans.

“I knew I had to help. I yelled out, ‘come on, you’ve got to get out of here’,” Mr Cripps told the ABC.

He loaded two families onto his 5-metre boat, including seven children aged from three to 10, and whisked them away from the oncoming flames and to the centre of the lake.

Jillie Flaxman, her husband and four children, from New South Wales’ Central Coast, were one of the families.

They were on a five-week holiday and settled along the bank of Lake Conjola.

The family were staying at a friends’ property accompanied by Ms Flaxman’s sister, her husband and three children.

On New Year’s Eve, Mr Cripps’ 75-year-old father was helping him pack the boat to evacuate when he spotted embers from the bush across the road jump and start a huge fire next to a row of five properties, including his.

On the other side was Ms Flaxman and her family.



Photo:

Jillie Flaxman with her husband and four children on holiday. (Facebook: Jillie Flaxman)

At midday, Ms Flaxman said her family rapidly became engulfed by fire and were trapped.

“I could just see fire and smoke in front of us,” she said.

“We [Ms Flaxman and her sister] loaded the seven kids into the separate caravans and tried to keep them calm.”

She soon thought it was better for them to evacuate.

They had no form of communication with the outside world at that time.

“We loaded everything into the car, [we] were going to try and leave.

“I couldn’t see my husband or brother-in-law, but I heard my brother-in-law yell out, ‘Get the kids to the jetty!'”

External Link:

RESCUED BY SOME LOCAL HERO IN A BOAT! THIS GUY SAVED OUR FAMILY! Even though their house was completely destroyed by fire only minutes before…

That’s when she heard Mr Cripps’ voice coming from the water. He yelled: “Get the kids here!”

“We owe Brett our lives,” Ms Flaxman said.

“He could have easily left us there, but he said he could hear our screams on the shore.

“[The boat] wasn’t even close to the jetty. We we’re literally chucking kids over the water into the boat.”

For almost three hours, the group of seven children, seven adults and two dogs sat in a boat meant for six on the lake, as fire surrounded them on both banks.

As surrounding bushland was engulfed, Mr Cripps watched his own home of 50 years go up in flames.

On the boat, they used clothing to shield their mouths and noses from the smoke.

“We made sure the kids had tea towels covering their mouths and were drinking plenty of water on the boat,” Ms Flaxman said.

“It was three hours of hell,” Mr Cripps said.

“It was like an inferno; we were about 500 yards away on the water and could still feel the immense heat.

“We lost everything.”



Photo:

Brett Cripps’ property is west of Lake Conjola in New South Wales. (Supplied: Brett Cripps)

‘Fifty years of memories gone. It’s hard’



Photo:

Mr Cripps’ home was gutted by the fire while the group watched on from the water. (Supplied: Brett Cripps)

On the boat, Mr Cripps said he was amazed at how well the young kids were handling the situation.

“The children were amazing, so composed,” he said.

“Their parents should be proud of them.”

Everyone was in a state of shock but for Mr Cripps, the added blow of seeing his home on fire was hard to take.

“Fifty years of memories gone. It’s hard,” he said.

“My dad’s car was incinerated. Mine was OK, but I’m going back to look for my car keys.”

Like ‘a war zone’



Photo:

The fire seen from the boat. (Supplied: Jillie Flaxman)

Ms Flaxman said locals were riding on jet skis and were in boats yelling out to anyone who needed their help New Year’s Eve.

“Everyone pitched in and did what they could. The community spirit there is so strong.”

The Lake Conjola community was left devastated this week when three bodies were found in the area as a result of the fires on the South Coast.

On Wednesday a 70-year-old man was also found dead outside a home west of Lake Conjola.

On New Year’s Eve, convoys of cars were forced into the water to avoid fire along the lake.

Mr Cripps said the winds had been north-westerly that day before lunchtime, and he thought the fire was contained.

Then northerly winds intensified, as did the fire, which he said then “jumped over the Princes Highway towards west Conjola”.

“We couldn’t have fought it; nothing could have prepared us for this,” he said.

“It was purely unbelievable.”



Photo:

A car destroyed on Mr Cripps’ property. (Supplied: Brett Cripps)

Both of the young families and Mr Cripps’ relatives made it back to shore safely.

He said other Lake Conjola community members also raced to help those stranded on the shoreline.

When Ms Flaxman and her family arrived safely to shore they were taken the nearest caravan park for assistance.

“We entered that caravan park like we had just come from a war zone.”

Inside the refuge of the caravan park, she said the community welcomed them wholeheartedly.

“That afternoon I looked at my sister and said, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to feed the kids’.”

But locals offered them food and clothing and even a hamper to take.

Ms Flaxman and her family are currently on a loaded bus heading north to evacuate the South Coast.

“We’re currently wearing other people’s clothes at the moment but the main thing is we’re all safe.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


The NSW Premier says you have to leave the South Coast — here’s what you need to know


North Batemans Bay 2536

As authorities race to prepare for horror bushfire conditions along the NSW South Coast on Saturday, the message being sent to tourists stranded in the area since New Year’s Eve is clear: get out now.

Key points:

  • Fuel shortages have caused delays, but more is being shipped in to help people get on the road
  • People planning to head north from Batemans Bay are being urged to delay their departure, due to road closures
  • Follow NSW Live Traffic for the latest road updates

A “tourist leave zone” has been designated from Batemans Bay down to the Victorian Border, and a state of emergency will be in force from tomorrow.

“We don’t take these decisions lightly but we also want to make sure we’re taking every single precaution to be prepared for what could be a horrible day on Saturday,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, urging anybody who could leave the area to do so as soon as possible.

But leaving a disaster zone requires patience, care and awareness.

Here’s what you need to know:

Know where you’re going

Escape routes depend on where you are, and you can monitor the latest information at the NSW Live Traffic website.

External Link:

NSW RFS tweet: Tourist leave zone

As has been the case for weeks, the Kings Highway, which connects Batemans Bay to Canberra, remains closed.

No matter your route, authorities have emphasised the need for safe driving on the roads.


Video: People passing through Bega stop to fuel up for the drive away from the fire threat.

(ABC News)

Find petrol, or wait for supplies

Before making the trip, make sure you have enough fuel.

Dwindling supplies have been reported in some parts of the area, including at Tarthra and Bega, which at one point ran out of diesel fuel.

You may not be able to stop along the way to fill up.

Even when there is fuel in stock, power outages have left some petrol stations unable to sell fuel.

Listen to ABC South East NSWAround Batemans Bay, Moruya and Bega, you can tune in to 103.5FM or listen online here.

Massive queues have been spotted outside some service stations, but authorities are urging patience.

NSW Member for Bega Andrew Constance said supplies were being brought in to ensure more people could get away.

“It’s the largest relocation out of the region ever,” he said.

“Fuel is coming into the region, which is great.

“More fuel will come in now the roads are open. Get stocked up in preparation for what is going to be another terrible day on Saturday.”

External Link:

Jade MacMillan tweet: "Traffic jams in Moruya as cars line up for petrol"

Murrays Buses, which usually runs daily services between Canberra and Batemans Bay, and Narooma, has cancelled the service until January 23.

Drive carefully

The roads are busy with traffic, and thick smoke means conditions could be difficult.

Evacuees are being urged to take care on the roads as they make the journey to safety.

Follow our live blog for updates on bushfires and the evacuations.

Use your headlights and do not rush.

If you are concerned about fire activity on your journey you can monitor the NSW Fires Near Me page, if you are not driving and it’s safe to do so.

More bushfire coverage:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


NSW Premier declares state of emergency ahead of ‘horrible’ fire conditions


NSW

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a seven-day state of emergency starting at 9:00am on Friday due to the ongoing bushfire crisis.

Key points:

  • Seven-day state of emergency declared for NSW as bushfire conditions worsen
  • Fire conditions on Saturday are expected to be worse than New Year’s Eve
  • Holidaymakers have been urged to leave the South Coast ahead of Saturday

It will mean forced evacuations and road closures for people in bushfire zones ahead of Saturday’s forecast “horrible” fire conditions.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Saturday was likely to bring conditions more dangerous than New Year’s Eve, when bushfires left seven dead and thousands in peril.

“There’ll be real challenges and very real risks associated with what’s being forecast and predicted for fire spread under the sorts of weather conditions we’re expecting as we head into Saturday,” he said.

“The conditions on Saturday are likely to be worse than New Year’s Eve and a lot of those areas in the south-east quadrant of the state have the potential to be impacted — and impacted very heavily.”



Photo:

In Batemans Bay, the beach was the only option for many fleeing the bushfire ravaging the South Coast. (Twitter: Alastairprior)

Follow our live blog for updates on bushfires and the evacuations.

A “tourist leave zone” has been declared for a 14,000-square-kilometre area between Nowra and the edge of Victoria’s northern border.

The NSW RFS initially declared a leave zone between Batemans Bay down to the border, but extended that zone to the area between Nowra and Ulladulla late on Thursday.

It is the “largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we’ve ever seen,” NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said.

RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said it was a race against the clock to get tourists out before Saturday.


Infographic:
The NSW RFS declared a “tourist leave zone” between Batemans Bay and the northern edge of the Victorian border.
(Supplied: NSW Rural Fire Service)

External Link:

@NSWRFS: Leave Zone – Shoalhaven Widespread extreme Fire Danger forecast for Shoalhaven Sat 4 Jan 2020. If you're holidaying in areas identified on the map, you need to leave before Saturday. Residents should be aware & prepare. For road closure info @LiveTrafficNSW #nswrfs #nswfires

“We have so many fires still burning down there … and quite close to communities as well,” he said.

“We won’t get containment on those fires before Saturday.”

Residents told to evacuate in southern NSW

Strong winds, scorching temperatures and low humidity are forecast for Saturday with temperatures set to hit 41 degrees Celsius on the South Coast.

The Princes Highway is closed between Milton and Tomerong, and between Batemans Bay and Moruya.

The Kings Highway, which connects Batemans Bay to Canberra, remains closed.

However, George Bass Drive, which runs along the coast, is open south of the Bay, with heavy traffic conditions in place.

Any changes to traffic conditions will be updated on the NSW Live Traffic website.

Police and emergency services have been escorting people out of the Bendalong, Manyana and Cunjurong areas — north of Ulladulla — about 20 cars at a time.

Those villages were cut off after the Currowan fire decimated large swathes of Conjola Park.


Video: People passing through Bega describe the fires they are fleeing.

(ABC News)

Traffic on major highways is heavy as holidaymakers attempt to flee the region under reduced speed limits.

How to get out of the ‘leave zone’
As authorities race to prepare for horror bushfire conditions along the NSW South Coast on Saturday, the message being sent to tourists stranded in the area since New Year’s Eve is clear: get out now.

“People are going to have to be patient on the roads,” Mr Constance said.

“We need people to stick to the major roads, stick to the roads that are open.”

Journalist Phil Coorey was traveling between Cooma and Bega and described a major traffic jam with many hundreds of cars, caravans and trucks backed up as far as he could see.

“There were hundreds, if not thousands, more cars as I got past the tailback coming the other way to add to it,” he said.



Photo:

A long line of cars trying to leave Batemans Bay on the NSW South Coast before dangerous fire conditions on Saturday. (ABC News: Jonathan Hair)

“I saw one police car on the entire trip. I stopped at an RFS checkpoint and told these traffic guys and they said they’re aware of it but ‘the police are too stretched.'”

Sydney ABC reporter Johanna McDiarmid was holidaying with her family in Ulladulla and said it was “bumper-to-bumper” in South Nowra.

They had detoured through into Conjola Park, where scores of homes were razed, to collect family friends before travelling further north towards Wollongong.

“You could see the power poles on the roads, powerlines across the driveway,” she said.

Town ‘not defendable’

In the south of the state, residents in the town of Batlow have been told their community will not be defendable if fire forecasts become a reality tomorrow afternoon.

The area is home to 1,300 people.

The Dunns Road fire, which is threatening the town, also prompted the evacuation of the Kosciuszko National Park and a nearby prison on Thursday, after burning through 130,000 hectares in recent days.

The RFS designated a leave zone around the town and surrounding country on Thursday afternoon, and told residents to get out urgently.

“If you are in this area, particularly in the general area from Batlow North to Wondalga, and west to Blowering Dam, you need to leave before tomorrow,” the notice said

Fuel demands overwhelm supply

Mr Constance acknowledged that many evacuees were struggling to find fuel — long queues were seen stretching out from petrol stations around Batemans Bay.

“We’re trying to get out of here as the authorities want us to leave,” holidaymaker Tracey Feeney said.

“So we’re just waiting for all their garages to open up, they’ve apparently got no power still.”



Photo:

An evacuee in Pambula, NSW found this signage outside a house offering food, water, shower and shelter. (Supplied: Anita Glover)

Mr Constance said tankers carrying up to 60,000 litres of fuel were brought in overnight.

“People are queueing up to get into petrol stations,” he said.

“Obviously there is a limit … so people need to gauge their fuel.

“You can’t leave on an empty tank, because the power is off in a lot of places. We need people to be well planned.”

Frustrated and worried people are forming lengthy queues outside supermarkets, hoping to stock up on food, camping supplies and other necessities.

A patient crowd lined up outside Moruya Woolworths, where limited staff were permitting 20 people at a time to manage the situation and avoid rushes.


Video: Dozens of residents are queuing to get into Woolworths for supplies while visitors are making their way out of fire-stricken areas

(ABC News)

The evacuation order came as the RFS revealed 382 homes were destroyed by the South Coast fires on New Year’s Eve.

It brings the total number of homes lost this bushfire season to 1,298.

Deputy Commissioner Rogers said the destruction was going to get a lot worse.


Video: NSW Rural Fire Service is urging tourists in towns from Batemans Bay to the Victorian border to leave today

(ABC News)

“The unfortunate part of this is that that’s not the end of it,” he said.

“There are more homes that are lost and crews will be out again today trying to account for all of those so we can give residents surety on what’s happened to their particular homes.”

Eight people are known to have died since Wednesday in a horror week for bushfires across the country, including a father-son duo and a volunteer firefighter.



Photo:

The remains of a home at Conjola Park after a bushfire swept through on New Year’s Eve. (ABC News: Selby Stewart)

A 63-year-old man and his 29-year-old son died in Cobargo on Tuesday while defending their property and volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul died after his truck flipped in a fire tornado in Jingellic, just north of the Victorian border.

Another three bodies were found at Lake Conjola, and one man was found in a burnt-out car at nearby Yatte Yattah.

Mr Constance said the speed of the fire on New Year’s Eve should be a warning to locals and visitors about the dangerous conditions forecast for Saturday.

“I think the fire moved at a pace that no-one expected. It shot round the back of Nelligen to Runnyford, hit Mogo pretty hard and then just burned through to the beach,” Mr Constance said.

“It’s devastating, but we’ll pull together.”

More bushfire coverage:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


National forecast update: Yet more dangerous fire conditions on the way


Adelaide 5000

With another cold front on the way, the end of the week looks set to bring more challenging conditions to fire grounds in Australia’s south-east.

Key Points

  • Fire danger is set to ramp up again at the end of this week, with hot weather forecast for SA, the ACT, NSW and Victoria
  • Rain is expected to fall over parts of WA, and it’s hoped a hot air mass over the centre will begin to disperse
  • More promising is the Indian Ocean Dipole’s return to neutrality, but forecasts don’t show any strong trend towards rain

The front, currently impacting Western Australia’s south-west coast, will drag down hot air from the centre as it moves across the country, increasing temperatures and fire danger in the south-east into the weekend.

There is also likely to be rainfall in northern and central WA, and the potential for some of the hot air mass that has been lurking over central Australia for the past few months to be cleared out.

Early next week there is a chance of a sprinkling of rain over the east coast, but the coast is only tipped to receive about 10 millimetres, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Follow our live blog for updates on bushfires and the evacuations.

External Link:

BOM provides an update about the elevated fire danger

“Ten millimetres isn’t a particularly significant amount of rainfall, so it is unlikely to do any significant contribution in terms of easing the conditions,” senior climatologist Agata Imielska said.

“Right now there isn’t really any significant rainfall on the forecast that would either ease the fires or the drought conditions we’ve been experiencing for quite some time.”

The bad news

The current reprieve from the worst of the heatwave and fire conditions in the south-east will be short.

The west has gotten the heat first with catastrophic fire danger forecast for the Goldfields region on Thursday and temperatures reaching well over 40C in the state’s south-east.

What makes a horror fire danger day?
Australia is experiencing horrendous fire weather. Find out why and what to watch out for.

South Australia will be next, with six districts expected to experience extreme fire danger conditions on Friday.

Adelaide is forecast to reach 42C on Friday, while Bordertown, in the state’s south-east, is also set to peak at 42C.

Meanwhile, in the state’s north, Oodnadatta is forecast to get up to 47C.

But the heat is not forecast to linger long, with the temperature in Adelaide expected to plummet to a maximum of 25C on Saturday.

Southern and eastern Victoria are also expected to be hot on Friday, and the heat will extend into Saturday for the north-west of the state.

The mercury will push 39C in Bairnsdale, while Mallacoota, in fire-ravaged East Gippsland, will hit 41C on Saturday.

Saturday will also bring dangerous conditions for NSW, with a wind change coming up the coast in much the same way as the change that came through on New Years Eve.

The NSW Rural Fire Service has declared a tourist leave zone along the South Coast, from the Victorian border to Batemans Bay.


Infographic:
The NSW RFS declared a “tourist leave zone” between Batemans Bay and the northern edge of the Victorian border.
(Supplied: NSW Rural Fire Service)

Sydney city is forecast to miss out on the worst of the heat, but Penrith, in Western Sydney, is forecast to get up to 45C on Saturday.

Canberra is expected to swelter through a 42C day on Saturday.

The good news


Infographic:
It is still a long way our so don’t get your hopes up too much but there is rain forecast for the south east-early next week. Bigger totals are expected for Western Australia over the next few days.
(Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology )

Luke Huntington, duty forecaster at the BOM in WA, said northern Australia is expected to get their usual showers and thunderstorms over the next few days, with totals increasing inland on Friday and into Saturday.

“We will see increased moisture from just offshore from the Kimberley Coast,” Mr Huntington said.

“That’ll be dragged along the mainland later in the week.

“It looks like on the Saturday there will be a rain band stretching from the Kimberly right through until the Eucla region and that’ll cool the air through that region.”

The science behind deadly spinning fires
Yes fires can spin. Because having flames, embers, bushfire thunderstorms and lightning isn’t enough, fires can also generate tornadoes and supercell thunderstorms.

There is also a cold air mass expected to move over the south of the state on Friday, which will get pushed up into central parts of the state by a strong ridge of high pressure with south-easterly winds.

Mr Huntington said that should also help to flush out the hot air.

“Without that hot air in that region we are unlikely to see any of those really hot temperatures … at least for the next couple of weeks, before that hot air could build up once again.”

It is not looking like NSW, SA or Queensland will get that sort of reprieve, but at this point something is better than nothing — and there is other good news.

IOD finally backing off
External Link:

Understanding the Indian Ocean Dipole

The last year has been hounded by one of the strongest positive Indian Ocean Dipoles (IOD) on record, but it returned to neutral territory this week.

Usually the IOD breaks down as the monsoon approaches the Northern Territory in early December, but better late than never.

“[The return to neutrality] will contribute to less of a warm air mass over the state,” Mr Huntington said.

External Link:

Andrew Watkins Tweet

“With that breaking down, we typically get the increased rainfall and perhaps the monsoon trough eventually beginning to form over the northern part of the state.”

Despite the monsoon still not having begun, things are starting to look decidedly more tropical up north.

“Some of the guidance is going for increased rainfall over that northern part of [Western Australia] and perhaps a tropical low may form over the weekend and into early next week,” he said.

“We may also see an increased risk of a tropical cyclone — at this stage it’s pretty uncertain, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

With the positive IOD gone and Australia’s other major climate drivers also forecast to remain neutral, the rainfall outlook over the next few months does not show any strong trend towards wetter or drier conditions.


Infographic:
This map is looking decidedly less brown than it has in recent months.
(Supplied: BOM)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Adelaide records 170mm less rain than average during dry 2019


Adelaide 5000

Adelaide has recorded its driest year in more than a decade due to severely below-average rainfall, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says.

Key points:

  • Adelaide’s temperature record was broken in December, when the city reached 45.3C
  • A severe below-average rainfall saw the city record 358 millimetres of rain, 170mm less than the long-term average
  • The city’s driest year was 1967, with 257.8mm recorded

In 2019, the city’s rain gauge recorded exactly 358 millimetres — 170.3mm less than the long-term average of 528.3mm.

The BOM said the 2019 figure was the lowest since 2006 and among the lowest on record.

Senior forecaster Tom Boeck said while data was still being analysed, the trend was likely to be replicated across the state.

External Link:

BOM tweet: Cumulative rainfall of 358.0 mm in #Adelaide for year 2019 is well below the long term average 528.3 mm. Actually it is in the lowest decile – Decile 1 rainfall is 390.4 mm.

“It’s likely to be one of the driest years for South Australia as a whole,” he said.

“Possibly over northern parts of the state, the Northern Pastoral districts — it’s likely to be the driest on record.”

Adelaide’s driest recorded year was 1967, with only 257.8mm falling over the 365 days.

The city set a new benchmark for its hottest recorded temperature on January 24 last year, reaching 46.6 degrees Celsius.

A record for the month of December was set less than a fortnight ago amid an extreme heatwave, with the mercury climbing to 45.3C in the city.

“We certainly started off very hot and finished off very hot as well,” Mr Boeck said.

During that heatwave — which triggered the deadly Cudlee Creek bushfire — temperature records tumbled across parts of southern Australia.

The nation as a whole set a new record for its hottest-ever day, with the national average maximum temperature reaching 41.9C two weeks ago.

Mr Boeck said the extreme heat towards the end to the year could have secured another unwanted milestone for 2019.

“As far as Australia goes as a whole, it’s looking like it’s going to be the warmest year on record,” he said.



Photo:

Roads started to bleed in Port Augusta during recent extreme heat. (Facebook: Port Augusta City Council)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘When will this nightmare end?’: Inside Mallacoota’s bushfire ‘apocalypse’


Mallacoota 3892

Residents and holidaymakers in Mallacoota in Victoria’s far east have described the sky turning from pitch black to blazing red as fire raced towards the seaside town.

Key points:

  • An estimated 5,000 people sheltered at Mallacoota boat ramp as the fire hit the town
  • Residents said it was “pitch black” before the sky turned red
  • The State Control Centre said large swathes of East Gippsland remain in the grips of a “broad scale” bushfire emergency

Thousands of people fled to the waterside this morning as fire raced towards the popular holiday destination.

Residents also reported hearing gas cylinders explode in the Mallacoota town centre.

Facebook user Jann Gilbert posted a series of photos of what she described as the “apocalypse”, writing: “When will this nightmare end?”

“Unless you’re here, you can’t even imagine what it’s actually like,” she says in one of the videos.

“It’s hard to breathe, even with a mask on.”



Photo:

The fire reached the outskirts of Mallacoota about 8:30am. (Supplied)

“This is really scary now, it’s just red, everywhere.

“The wind is intermittently howling, which brings more embers.”



Photo:

This family got into a boat to get away from the blaze. (Twitter: Bradley Deacon)

Resident Mark Tregellas said about 5,000 people gathered at the Mallacoota boat ramp as the bushfire hit the town.

“It was pitch black until about five minutes ago, now the sky is red, it’s starting to get embers coming out of the sky, the wind is coming directly at us from the west,” he told ABC Gippsland this morning.

“Some people actually got into their boats and went across the other side of the lake to try and wait out the fire.”


Video: Some Mallacoota residents took to the water as the bushfire reached the town. (Facebook: Cubin')

(ABC News)

In a video uploaded to social media, a man wearing a cloth over his face and ski-goggles broadcasted from a boat, pointing at Mallacoota behind him.

“It’s f***ing chaos,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”



Photo:

The fire that reached Mallacoota started at Wingan River on Sunday. (Supplied: Mike Lane)

Mr Tregellas told the ABC he had received an unconfirmed report that the fire had hit his home.

He had loaded up photos and personal documents into his camper trailer before moving to the boat ramp.



Photo:

Witnesses described the sky turning from black to bright red. (Twitter: @Brendanh_au)

External Link:

Twitter GippsNews:

Francesca Winterson, who broadcasts from Mallacoota’s local community radio station, said she doubted her home would be left standing as it was in the path of the blaze.

“My house won’t survive. I’ve just accepted that,” she said.

Sirens the signal to head to the water

The fire threatening Mallacoota started at Wingan River on Sunday and spread rapidly towards the coast.

Firefighters cut down trees in the area yesterday to mitigate risk and fire trucks surrounded people camping near the water, spraying down the area to keep it cool.


Video: People sought refuge at the foreshore as the fire neared the town.

(ABC News)

Mallacoota resident Don Ashby told ABC Gippsland that fire sirens went off shortly before 8:30am as the bushfire reached the edge of the town.

“The agreement was when all the trucks turn the sirens on that was when the fire hit and everybody had to go and get down to the waterline,” he said.

He said he could not see anything as the sky turned black and ash fell as the roar of the bushfire came closer.

“It’s like the darkest, darkest night,” he said.



Photo:

Sirens were the signal for people to assemble at the wharf. (Instagram: @travelling_aus_family)

Earlier, resident Mariska Ascher told ABC Gippsland about 7:15am that she was staying in her home and the fire seemed “extremely close”.

“It’s really horrible, it’s the worst it’s been. It’s really close,” she said.



Photo:

“Day has turned into night in Mallacoota”, resident Brendan wrote on Twitter shortly after 7am. (Twitter: @Brendanh_au)

“It’s absolutely frightening. Black leaves are hitting our deck.”

Resident Mick Dunne told the ABC many were preparing to lose their homes.

“We plan but there’s no easy exit from the town. Those who left did so nervously, and those who stayed do so nervously,” he said.



Photo:

While the fire bypassed the town centre, homes on Mallacoota’s fringe were burnt. (Twitter: @brendanh_au)

Later, authorities said the fire had bypassed the town following a wind change, news that was met by cheers from the town’s jetty.

But CFA chief officer Steve Warrington said houses had burnt down on the outskirts of town.



Photo:

Witnesses described the sky turning red and hot embers falling from the sky. (Twitter: @brendanh_au)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Suspicious blaze comes close to SA campground but Cudlee Creek fire contained


Adelaide 5000

As South Australian firefighters continue to battle blazes that broke out during catastrophic conditions on Monday, a suspicious grassfire has come close to a popular camping area south of Adelaide.

Key points:

  • Temperatures reached the mid-40s in some parts of the state on Monday
  • A bushfire at Keilira has burned through about 25,000 hectares
  • The CFS says it believes a number of properties have been lost at Keilira

The fire, at Second Valley on the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide, was an unwelcome sight to campers as it burned in hills overlooking the Rapid Bay caravan park.

“I saw flames going up the hill, and it was on the ground as well. It was really daunting,” local resident Anika Wollaston said.

“The campground is pretty much full, and many campers were looking at the blaze.

“A lot of campers were just packing up and leaving.”

The Country Fire Service (CFS) earlier issued a watch and act message, before it was downgraded and police are now the treating the fire as deliberately lit.



Photo:

A fire has come close to the Rapid Bay campground on the Fleurieu Peninsula. (Facebook: Ahlia Olley)

Water bombers were called to assist firefighters and 10 appliances on the ground.

Nearly 40,000 hectares have burned across the state over the past 24 hours, with several bushfires yet to be controlled.

See how the day unfolded in our blog

A blaze at Ravine in Kangaroo Island has sent smoke across the Adelaide sky, with the Bureau of Meteorology expecting the haze to continue into tomorrow.

A watch and act message remains in place for that fire in the island’s north-west.

For the first time since breaking out more than 11 days ago, the deadly Cudlee Creek fire in the Adelaide Hills has been declared contained but remains at advice level.

External Link:

BOM tweet: Smoke from the #KangarooIsland bushfires is extending across the #Adelaide sky. Smoke is mostly in the upper atmosphere but we may see some smoke haze tomorrow morning. For the revellers out a midnight the temperature in Adelaide is likely to be around 17°C for the start of 2020.

The CFS said smouldering tree stumps would likely cause flare-ups over the coming weeks.

It offered a “huge thankyou” to volunteers who responded to the emergency.

“Volunteers and staff will continue to work on this fire by patrolling, checking, planning and extinguishing, up until the fire is able to be declared complete,” it said.

“The community response to this fire has been exceptional.”

Authorities have begun to assess the full damage of Monday’s catastrophic conditions.

At least three homes have been destroyed by a bushfire which also killed thousands of livestock and burned through almost 25,000 hectares at Keilira in the state’s south-east.

Local resident Phil Clarke returned to inspect the remains of his property at nearby Bin Bin on Tuesday.

Mr Clarke was fighting the fire at its ignition point on Monday when the wind changed direction, putting his wife Anthea and their home in the firing line.

He said he made a frantic call over the radio to warn her.

“I said, ‘Just grab a bag mate or don’t even grab it, just go with what’s on you’ and she said, ‘OK’. I was yelling, ‘Just go, go, go,'” he said.

“I had to drive through 6 kilometres of flames with the trees each side burning, I didn’t know if I was going to get there or not.”



Photo:

CFS officers and volunteers pick up debris from the road following strong winds and fires in SA. (ABC News: Stacey Lee)

While Mr Clarke and his wife managed to escape the inferno, their home of more than 18 years was destroyed, and Mr Clarke said he had lost “everything”.

“Eight hundred bales of hay, the lads are going through the sheep and cattle to see what we’ve lost, probably 40 kilometres of fence and the house,” he said.

Properties lost but many more saved, CFS says

Incident controller at the Keilira bushfire, Richard De Groot, said the fire had a perimeter of more than 80 kilometres.

“I can say that we understand there are three structures that have been impacted, but we don’t know the makeup of [those],” he said.



Photo:

Scrubland burns at Keilira, in the south-east of SA. (Supplied: CFS)

He said while some properties were damaged, firefighters should be applauded for their work to save many more.

“What I can say is yesterday the firefighters made some excellent saves, I understand over 20 properties were being impacted on and as a result of our firefighters they were protected or saved,” he said.

South Australian MP Nick McBride, who is the local member for Mackillop in the south-east, said he had also heard of three properties damaged by the Keilira fire, and countless livestock had been killed.



Photo:

Firefighters swiftly got on top of several flare-ups. (ABC News: Stacey Lee)

He said the Keilira fire had devastated prime cropping land, with farmers beginning the grim task of euthanising injured animals.

“Infrastructure-wise, I’m hearing two or three haysheds which were full, I’m hearing at least three houses have been lost, no lives and look this is very early days,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“We’re hearing severe stock losses … we’re talking thousands.

“A lot of that is the euthanising of stock and destroying and cleaning up.”

He said many producers were caught out by the wind change that came through on Monday, which changed the direction of the fire.

“Some large grazing properties have been really, severely affected,” he said.

“It burned out, I’m hearing nearly 95 per cent of property on the northern side of Keilira because of the wind change from a northerly direction to a westerly and blew the fire to the east.

“People had put their stock up out of the way of the fire coming in a southerly direction and it’s basically cooked a lot of stock and caused a lot of misfortune for a lot of farmers up in this area.”



Photo:

A lightning strike over Sheringa, on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. (Supplied: @samanthalodgephotography/Instagram)

Fires fanned by strong winds on Monday also caused power outages for thousands of customers on the Eyre Peninsula, with power restored just before midnight.

CFS chief officer Mark Jones on Monday said the south-east fire had run through a large area of grassland.

“It is believed to have been caused by a dry lightning strike and is running through scrub and grassland,” he said.


Video: ABC News reporter Brittany Evins captured this footage of a dust storm while driving back to Adelaide from the Riverland.

(ABC News)

‘Pretty challenging weather conditions’

CFS communications officer Brett Williamson this morning said firefighters were challenged by the extreme conditions on Monday, all across the state.

“Yesterday presented some pretty challenging weather conditions for us with the heat and wind that changed direction throughout the day,” he said.

“At around 6:30pm last night we had attended 154 different incidents across the state, we had 135 fire trucks active on firegrounds with about 540 CFS personnel.”



Photo:

CFS crews take some downtime amid the Cudlee Creek bushfire in the Adelaide Hills. (ABC News: Catherine Zengerer)

Cooler weather is expected to help firefighters control bushfires burning across the state over the next two days, with forecast temperatures in the mid-20s.

However, the CFS is concerned ahead of another day of hot and windy conditions on Friday, which is forecast to rise above 40C.

“Conditions are better for us today, so now will be the time where we really do try and make some headway and be able to get some better ground covered on some of these fires before the heat returns on Friday,” he said.

“It’s been a really tough couple of weeks for our volunteer crews and they’ve done a fantastic job over, particularly the last 24 hours, to make sure that all their work is paid off and none of these fires that were already existing jumped out.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news




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