For much of the 2019-2020 austral summer, plumes of bushfire smoke have billowed from southeastern Australia in such large amounts that the ground was barely visible in satellite images. In mid-January, some of those plumes were finally quelled by a few days of much-needed rainfall.
The map above shows rainfall accumulation from January 15-21, 2020, in New South Wales and neighboring states. These data are remotely-sensed estimates that come from the Integrated Multi-Satellite Retrievals for GPM (IMERG), a product of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. Local rainfall amounts can be significantly higher when measured from the ground.
According to news reports, the largest accumulations in New South Wales occurred north of Sydney, where rainfall averaged between 20 and 30 centimeters (8 and 12 inches). In Victoria, areas near Melbourne received a month’s worth of rain in a single day. The weather system was spotty, however, and some areas along the southeast coast saw less than a centimeter of precipitation.
The rain could not extinguish every fire, but it helped reduce the numbers. According to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, 64 fires (16 uncontained) were burning across the state on January 21. That’s down from 88 fires (39 uncontained) on January 15.
When the rain ended, the totals were not enough to bring any area out of drought. That is a concern, as the Bureau of Meteorology noted on January 21 that high temperatures and gusty winds have once again elevated the fire danger across New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using IMERG data from the Global Precipitation Mission (GPM) at NASA/GSFC. Story by Kathryn Hansen.