Australia records third-warmest year

Children enjoy the weather on a beach in SydneyExperts said greenhouse gases were almost certainly to blame for the higher temperatures

Australia has recorded its third-warmest calendar year since national records began in 1910, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says.

Frequent heatwaves and a marked reduction in cold weather characterised 2014, the Bureau said.

Mean temperatures were 0.91C above the long-term average in 2014, the BOM said.

The news comes as South Australia is facing some of the worst bushfires in the region in decades.

Firefighters are battling to contain a major blaze in the hills behind the city of Adelaide before forecast soaring temperatures and strong winds fuel it further.



Fire-fighters on a fire engine spraying water on a bush fire

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Soaring temperatures and strong winds fan flames in South Australia

The South Australian government has confirmed 38 homes, 125 outbuildings and four businesses have been destroyed or badly damaged so far.

About 150 people have suffered injuries, including many firefighters suffering from smoke inhalation.

Thousands of customers of internet company iiNet found themselves offline for about six and a half hours on Monday night after the company shut down some of its systems at its Perth data centre because of high temperatures.

Temperatures in Perth reached 44.4C on Monday, according to Fairfax-owned weather service Weatherzone. That made it the hottest January day on record in Australia since 1991, when the temperatures reached 45.8C.

A small fire burns after a bushfire moved through the area near One Tree Hill in the Adelaide Hills on January 5, 2015Experts warn that higher temperatures have left Australia more susceptible to bushfires

“Due to record breaking temperatures, iiNet Toolbox, Email and our corporate websites are unavailable. Apologies for any inconvenience caused,” iiNet tweeted.

Average rainfall

The high temperatures of 2014 came after the warmest year on record in 2013, which was 1.2C warmer than average, according to the bureau.

BOM’s Assistant Director for Climate Information Services, Neil Plummer, said Spring 2014 was also the warmest on record in Australia.

A player cools off at the Australian OpenPlayers at the 2014 Australian Open faced extreme hot weather

Nationally, Australian temperatures have warmed by about one degree since 1950, and the continued warmth in 2014 adds to this long-term warming trend, it said.

The BOM said that rainfall for Australia as a whole was near average for the year, with 478mm, but southern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales continued to suffer very dry weather.

Map

Recent research has tied these recent heat extremes to climate change, said Dr Sopie Lewis of the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University.

“We had our hottest spring on record in 2013 and again in 2014, and these extremes were at least 30 times more likely because of human influences, such as greenhouse gases,” said Dr Lewis.

“The report shows that recent extreme heat in Australia is also consistent with global conditions. All of the 10 warmest years recorded have occurred since 1998 and it is likely that 2014 will be the hottest year globally,” she said.

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VIDEO: ‘Window’ to fight Australia fires

Firefighters in southern Australia say weather conditions have eased, allowing a short window to try to bring under control bushfires which have been burning for four days just east of the city of Adelaide.

Planes known as airtankers are dropping water on the perimeter of the blaze to try to slow its progress.

Jon Donnison reports.

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Australia races to control bushfires



A fire in Australia

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“Some have returned to find they have lost all that they own,” reports Jon Donnison

Firefighters in South Australia say they are racing to contain a major bushfire before soaring temperatures and high winds fuel the blaze.

More than 30 homes are already feared destroyed in the hills behind the city of Adelaide.

More than 500 firefighters are tackling the fires, which have been burning since Friday.

Officials say the blaze is the worst in the area since the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983, which left 75 dead.

Temperatures are forecast to hit 34C in Adelaide on Monday before rising to as high as 38C on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

Speaking to the BBC, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said: “We are doing everything we possibly can but nature is powerful, fires are powerful and everyone must respond to that threat.”

The burnt out remains of a property in Gumeracha, Adelaide Hills, Australia, 04 January 2015The Adelaide Hills area has been worst affected by the fires so far

Mention of Ash Wednesday brings back “horrific memories for Australians”, Mr Truss said, adding that the consolation this time is there there has been no similar loss of life.

‘Race against time’

However, the region is not yet out of danger, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said.

“We’re really racing against time to try to make sure that we get as much of this contained before the hotter weather and the stronger winds are expected later in the week,” he told a press conference.

“The objective of this is obviously to ensure that the fire does not spread under the worsening conditions, but also to open up as many areas as possible,” Mr Weatherill said.

He said South Australians should prepare for more severe bushfires.

Volunteer Country Fire Authority fire fighters relax after fighting bush fires across the Adelaide Hills, in Gumeracha, Australia, 04 January 2015Exhausted firefighters have been battling the blaze for four days

Fire damage to property surrounding the Adelaide Hills, taken from Montacute Conservation Park to North East towards Gumeracha and Kersbrook, near Adelaide, Australia, 04 January 2015Smoke from the fires could be seen from Montacute Conservation Park

A number of towns remained at risk from uncontrolled fire burning in scrub and grass, and some roads into the fire zone remained closed, said the state’s Country Fire Service (CFS).

Chief Officer for the CFS, Greg Nettleton, told local media the number one priority for firefighters was to prepare for possible catastrophic weather conditions expected to hit on Wednesday.

“The winds will swing around to the north. At the moment I think they’re predicting somewhere like about 35kph (22mph),” said Mr Nettleton.

“That’s enough given the dryness of the country for the fire to spread, so our number one priority is to secure the outer perimeter of that large fire so it doesn’t impact on further communities.”

BBC map of Victoria and South Australia

An estimated 12,500 hectares of land have been burnt since Friday, according to local media, and firefighters from South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales are battling the fires’ 238km perimeter.

Large air tankers are dumping water on the fire front and back-burning operations are underway, where new fires are started in order to burn in the opposite direction to the line of advancing fire.

Of the estimated 1100 properties in the Adelaide Hills, 12 are confirmed destroyed with another 20 believed to have been burnt down. Twenty-two people, mostly firefighters, are reported to have suffered minor injuries.

The Insurance Council of Australia has declared the blaze a “catastrophe”, which means insurers can escalate their response, and claims arising from the bushfires should be given priority by insurers.

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From boom to bust in Australia’s mining towns

Coal truck in MuswellbrookMining is a mainstay of the economy in small towns like Muswellbrook

After 23 years of growth, including one of the biggest mining booms in the nation’s history, tumbling iron ore and coal prices have put a brake on Australia’s economy – and mining towns are paying the price.

Peter Windle is a casualty of the mining slowdown. The New South Wales mining employee has lost a well-paid job, a company car and an annual bonus that in some years was as high as A$60,000 ($48,800; £31,300).

A termination package from the mining company he used to work for has helped soften the blow. But Mr Windle still had to sell his investment property to keep his head above water.

Once part of a vast army of workers in what was Australia’s booming resources sector, Mr Windle now gets up at 5.30 am five days a week to clean and drive school buses in the small town of Muswellbrook. For decades, the town had ridden the waves of Australia’s coal boom.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen it in 28 years in the mining industry,” says Mr Windle. “Everyone is getting out. Three hundred houses are for sale in my town, three in my street, and rental prices have collapsed on older weatherboard houses from A$1,000 a week to A$200,” he says.

Mr Windle was the purchase and compliance manager at Glennies Creek Coal Mine. Earlier this year, however, Brazilian company Vale – which owns the underground mine and an open-cut mine at nearby Camberwell – suddenly announced it was sacking 500 workers and mothballing the mines.

‘Sharpening of pencils’

Mr Windle’s story is not unusual. Across Australia, coal and iron ore mines are laying off staff, shutting down operations or putting new investments on hold. Resource analysts say it is the end of a long and lucrative mining boom that was mostly fuelled by demand from China.

The number of people employed in coal mining alone rose from 15,000 to 60,000 between 2001 and 2014, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Trucks laden with iron ore, Western Australia

Mining companies offered high wages to entice workers from other industries, and to mines that were often in remote locations such as outback Western Australia.

Preliminary estimates suggest that this year, Australia exported over A$40bn of coal, much of it to China.

But as China’s economy has slowed, the price of coal used for power generation has fallen, from US$142 a tonne in January 2011 to US$67 a tonne in November 2014, according to the World Bank.

In the case of iron ore, in mid-December it was trading at about US$70 a tonne, the lowest level since 2009.

The mining downturn has been painful in small towns like Muswellbrook, which has a population of about 10,000 and lies about 250km (155 miles) north of Sydney.

Its locals might find jobs in the region’s wine and horse-breeding sectors. But mining has always been the big employer.

Chinese distributors sampling Australian wine, Barossa valleySectors such as wine and tourism can partially compensate for the loss of mining jobs

Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush says there are still jobs to be found operating local mines but admits the outlook is subdued.

“There has been a ‘sharpening of pencils’ around the cost side [of mine operations] and a significant reduction in service sector jobs. Contractors were the first to go,” he says.

In a bid to offset mining job losses, the town is working closely with the tourism and equine industries, and is planning a Muswellbrook university campus in a partnership with the University of Southern Queensland and vocational education provider, TAFE.

Ripple effect

The fall in the price of coal is a classic case of supply and demand, says senior economist at St George Bank, Janu Chan.

“Over the past decade, prices went up. There was an incentive to increase coal supply, and more mines opened or became profitable. However, as capacity increased, it generated too much coal and prices fell again.”

But, she explains, thanks to its own downturn, China started buying less coal and iron ore, adding to a worldwide resources glut.

In just six months, Australia’s export earnings from resources have dropped from A$192bn to A$176bn because of lost royalty income and company tax, according to the Australian government’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics.

Construction site near BeijingChina’s construction sector is slowing down after years of growth

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey says the downturn has produced the largest decline in Australia’s terms of trade since 1959.

The ripple effect from China’s economic slowdown is tinged with irony, says Ms Chan.

“Australia’s central bank cut interest rates to 2.5% [in 2013] to compensate for the slowdown in China,” she says.

“Effectively, the Chinese housing boom ending means mortgage interest rates fall in Australia, giving a boost to house prices in Sydney and Melbourne [because cheaper credit fuels demand for housing].”

It is poor consolation for Mr Windle, who is now contemplating looking for a job in another state.

“I’m 54 now, and I’ve had a hip replacement. I might get a job at an outback mine in the far north of Queensland but I’d hate to spend another year working away from home. And suppose they lay off workers too?” he asks.

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VIDEO: Bushfires rage in southern Australia

Hundreds of firefighters are continuing to tackle some of the worst bushfires to hit South Australia for more than 30 years.

The hot, windy conditions that fanned the flames have eased, prompting officials to lower the danger level.

Jon Donnison reports.

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VIDEO: Bushfires rage in Southern Australia

Hundreds of firefighters are continuing to tackle some of the worst bushfires to hit South Australia for more than 30 years.

The hot, windy conditions that fanned the flames have eased, prompting officials to lower the danger level.

Jon Donnison reports.

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Search for New Zealand climbers ends

The Mount Cook range, located in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, on South Island in New Zealand

Rescuers in New Zealand have called off their search for three climbers missing presumed dead on Mount Cook.

Aerial searches of the mountain, also known by its Maori name Aoraki, have turned up no sign of the men.

Sydney doctor Michael Bishop, 53, Yohann Viellehner, 58, from Germany and his 27-year-old son Raphael were last seen in the early hours of Monday.

Police said the men were roped together when they set off for the summit. They failed to return to their hut that day.

Police spokesman Brent Swanson said the families of the men were upset the search had stopped, but were aware of why the decision was made.

Map of Mount Cook in New Zealand

“The search team are obviously disappointed with the result and our thoughts are with the families in Australia and Germany,” he said in a statement.

He said police would re-evaluate their search plans if they got any new information or sightings.

Mt Cook, in the South Island, is New Zealand’s tallest peak at 3,724m (12,217ft). It is a popular challenge for climbers from around the world because of the skills required to reach its summit.

More than 230 people have died on the mountain since it was first climbed in 1894.

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Australia bushfires destroy homes



Firefighters

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Jon Donnison reports on the fires destroying parts of the Adelaide Hills

More than 30 homes are feared destroyed in South Australia as crews continue to battle out-of-control bushfires.

More than 800 firefighters are tackling the blazes, which have been burning for several days in the hills around the city of Adelaide.

Officials say the fires are the worst in the area since the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983, which left 75 dead.

Cooler weather may help firefighters tame the flames, which have been fanned by high winds and temperatures.

But South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill said the situation remained critical.

“We’re by no means through this particular emergency,” he said.

“Homes are being threatened, there are people in the path of this fire front at the moment. It’s a very serious situation.”



Adelaide heat

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Temperatures soar in south-east Australia

He said 12 homes had been confirmed destroyed in the Adelaide Hills with another 20 also feared lost.

Twenty-two people, mostly firefighters, are said to have suffered minor injuries.

More than 11,000 hectares (27,200 acres) of land has been burned, according to reports.

People are being encouraged not to take any risks, and leave if their houses are in danger.



Bushfire in southern Australia

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Firefighter Rob Sandford said strong winds were exacerbating the situation


A resident checks on his property as fires continue to burn through the Adelaide Hills, in Kersbrook, near Adelaide, Australia, 4 January 2015The fires are threatening rural communities east of Adelaide

The burnt out remains of a property in Gumeracha, Adelaide Hills, Australia, 4 January 2015Dozens of properties are feared destroyed

A general view shows the Tea Tree Gully Boarding Kennels and Cattery, where dozens of pets perished during bushfires, in the Adelaide Hills on January 3, 2015. Dozens of dogs and cats were killed after fire destroyed a kennel and cattery

“Right at this moment, residents in the Adelaide Hills are being confronted by a fire which hasn’t been seen in the hills since the 1983 bushfires of Ash Wednesday,” South Australia fire chief Greg Nettleton said on Saturday.

The 1983 fires left 75 people dead and caused devastation across parts of Victoria and South Australia.

Australia faces such fires every year but environmentalists say global warning is making their occurrence more frequent.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology says the country experienced its hottest year on record in 2013.

In 2009, the devastating “Black Saturday” wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria.

BBC map of Victoria and South Australia

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VIDEO: Australia bushfires ‘sound like jet’

Residents in parts of southern Australia are being told their lives are at risk as bushfires rage out of control.

Intense blazes, north east of Adelaide, are the worst in the area for more than 30 years.

Australia faces such fires every year but environmentalists say global warning is making their occurrence more frequent.

Jon Donnison reports.

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High alert over Australia bushfires



Burning fields

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One resident described the sound of the bushfires like the “roar of a jet engine”

Firefighters are battling out-of-control bushfires threatening homes in South Australia and Victoria.

Police have declared a major emergency and told residents that their lives are at risk.

South Australia’s fire chief said the blazes in the Adelaide Hills, northeast of Adelaide city, were the worst since the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983.

Those fires left 75 people dead and caused devastation across parts of Victoria and South Australia.

“At the moment, we have a fire which is extremely dangerous and it is burning under extremely adverse conditions,” South Australia fire chief Greg Nettleton was quoted as saying.

“Right at this moment, residents in the Adelaide Hills are being confronted by a fire which hasn’t been seen in the hills since the 1983 bushfires of Ash Wednesday,” Nettleton said.

Crews have also been battling bushfires in Victoria, with emergency alerts issued for Hastings, Bittern, and Crib Point south of Melbourne.

“Leaving now is the safest option, before conditions become too dangerous,” the area’s country fire authority. said.

‘Incredibly scary’

So far about five homes have been destroyed but authorities said this number could rise as strong winds fan the flames.

South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill urged residents in the areas at risk to leave immediately or prepare to stay and defend their homes.

“If you have decided to stay the fire could become incredibly scary and it could make you change your mind and leave.

“It could be a catastrophic decision to leave late.”

A general view shows the Tea Tree Gully Boarding Kennels and Cattery, where dozens of pets perished during bushfires, in the Adelaide Hills on January 3, 2015. Dozens of dogs and cats were killed after fire destroyed a kennel and cattery in the Adelaide Hills

A sign for the Tea Tree Gully Boarding Kennels and Cattery, where dozens of pets perished during bushfires, is displayed in the Adelaide Hills on January 3, 2015

Firefighters work to mop up a fire near Mia Mia in Victoria, Australia, 18 December 2014High temperatures and strong winds have hampered firefighters’ attempts to battle the blazes

A family evacuate their suburban Golden Grove home as bushfires spread across the area on the fringe of the Adelaide Hills on January 3, 2015. Residents were told to leave immediately

So far these are the biggest bushfires of the Australian summer, reports the BBC’s Jon Donnison in Sydney.

Australia faces such fires every year but environmentalists say global warning is making their occurrence more frequent.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology says the country experienced its hottest year on record in 2013.

The 1983 disaster killed more than 70 people in South Australia and Victoria and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

In 2009, the devastating “Black Saturday” wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria.

BBC map of Victoria and South Australia

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