But heavy rains also pose a risk when they fall on the denuded landscape. Fire- and drought-baked soil doesn’t do a great job absorbing water, which can lead to heavy runoff. Without trees, shrubs, and other vegetation to catch it, that can translate to landslides, flash floods, and mudflows. The Victoria State Emergency Service has already reported at least one road getting overrun with debris and a sinkhole opening up.


This form of weather whiplash is a prime symptom of climate change in Australia. Fire weather has grown worse in many locations in the country, but no place has seen danger increase more than the southeast region that’s been the epicenter of the fires this year, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s 2018 State of the Climate Report. The same report shows the frequency of extreme heat has increased and the region has also dried. Yet even as southeast Australia has dried, the report notes that a “higher proportion of total annual rainfall in recent decades has come from heavy rain days.”

That’s how you can end up with a whiplash effect like what we’re seeing this week in Australia. It’s also something researchers have chronicled in California, another location with a Mediterranean climate and propensity for large fires followed by mudslides. So even though nobody is cursing the rain, it’s also a reminder that Australia and other places like it will need to prepare for increasingly volatile weather.