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No You're Not Imagining It, Bushfire Season Is Starting Earlier And Here's Why

Bushfires raging on the eastern seaboard have been making headlines since September this year, prompting many Aussies to wonder if the bushfire season is getting earlier and earlier.

Researchers from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and Country Fire Association (CFA) had the same observation and sought to prove it.

BOM's Chris Lucas teamed up with CFA's Sarah Harris to examine seasonal fire weather history between 1973 and 2017, in the most comprehensive research ever conducted of its kind.

The researchers found an "average increase in the severity of seasonal bushfire weather across Australia - especially in southern parts of the continent."

"The increased severity affects all seasons but in particular spring, which means that, on average, the bushfire season is starting earlier," they wrote.

"The strongest trend [is] found in southern Australia, in spring."

A burnt down house and vehicle is seen in Laidley, southeast Queensland, Wednesday, October 9, 2019. IMAGE: AAP

This year, the fire season kicked off in September in country's east. For NSW in 2018 and 2013 there were also severe fires in spring and much of the nation's southeast was also hit in spring in 2015.

With this data and analysis at hand, the researchers said bushfires this year were expected once winter passed.

READ MORE: Couple Found Dead At Home Destroyed By NSW Bushfires

READ MORE: The Reality Of Staying Behind To Defend Your Property In A Bushfire

"This did not come as a surprise to meteorologists and fire agencies. Record-breaking heat and windy conditions were forecast for parts of NSW and Queensland," the authors wrote. 

Many homes were lost this week in bushfires at Busbys Flat, NSW Image: AAP

The research also examined annual changes in climatic conditions that are predominately driven by three factors: the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the Indian Ocean Dipole, and the Southern Annular Mode.

These variations in winds and sea surface temperatures are key to preparing for, and responding to fires.

READ MORE: Yes, Climate Change Is Driving These 'Unprecedented' Fires

"Understanding the interactions between climate drivers and Australian fire weather is a step towards improved seasonal forecasts of fire weather, potentially resulting in more effective fire planning and resource management."

Climate change is definitely playing a role in producing the earlier start to bushfire seasons and overall more extreme seasons, particularly in southeastern Australia.

Human-induced climate change is also a factor, with the researchers arguing it gradually increases background fire weather conditions, irrespective of the severity of the bushfire.

"Long-term climate change in Australia is an undeniable reality."

"It also demonstrates that a few milder bushfire seasons do not mean climate change isn’t happening," the authors said. 

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au