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As Queensland burns, forecasts point to a high-risk summer

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Weather experts say the risk of above-normal bushfires persists in large areas of southern Australia as more than 100 fires continue to burn across Queensland.

“Rain in areas of eastern Australia during spring, while welcome, was not enough to recover from the long-term dry conditions,” the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre says.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) summer outlook, issued today, supports the research centre’s warning.

The Manager of Long-Range Forecasting at the bureau, Andrew Watkins, says most of Australia has an 80% chance of exceeding normal temperatures over the next three months.

“We’ve already seen extremely hot temperatures through parts of north and central Queensland in recent days, and this should act as an important reminder of the kinds of conditions we can get during an Australian summer,” he says.

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre’s Southern Australia Seasonal Bushfire Outlook confirms its September forecast, saying the hot and dry conditions “have resulted in the expectation of above-normal fire potential into [next year] across large parts of Queensland, NSW, the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania, SA and WA.” There is a slight increase in the high risk area in Southern Tasmania.

The bureau remains on El Nino alert, meaning there is a 70% chance of the system forming this year. El Nino typically brings drier and warmer conditions to eastern Australia.

“In terms of rainfall, the outlook shows a drier-than-average three months is likely for large parts of WA, Queensland and the Top End of the NT,” Mr Watkins said. “For the rest of the country, there is no strong push indicating wetter or drier-than-average conditions.

“Having said that, locally heavy rainfall events similar to what we have seen in NSW in the past two days are always a possibility during summer, no matter what the outlook is showing.”

But the coastal NSW rainstorms will only have a temporary effect on the bushfire risk. The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre says it “will not take long once heat and dry conditions return for vegetation to dry out”.

Queensland recorded the ninth-driest and fourth-hottest April-November on record, NSW the eighth-driest and fourth-hottest, and Victoria the 13th-driest and seventh-hottest.

The Queensland bushfires are prompting fresh evacuation warnings today, including in Deepwater, Baffle Creek, Rules Beach and Oyster Creek north of Bundaberg.

On Tuesday the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) reported fewer than 10 properties destroyed and further losses for outbuildings.

Today a spokeswoman told ICA is continuing to monitor the situation.

The Queensland Government says weather conditions have been “unprecedented” – extremely hot and dry, with low humidity despite the wet season beginning.