Into the city

We had rain overnight. Not just rain, but a thunderstorm. I was woken at 01:20 by a huge clap of thunder, not far away, and then there were several more over the next few minutes. There was rain too, moderately heavy, but it was nothing compared to the thunder, and I don’t think it lasted very long. Better than nothing though, as the gardens and lawns got some water for the first time in ages.

Sydney recorded 2.8 mm of rain. Which is not a lot, by any standard except the incredible drought that we’re currently in. Every second post in the subreddit /r/sydney this morning was some variant on “It’s raining!!” That’s how excited people here were to get less than 3 mm of rain.

The moisture mixed with the bushfire smoke hanging over Sydney to create a weird white smog effect that lasted through the whole day. It looked like fog, but had a faint smokey smell. I braved it go head into the city on the train to do some shopping. I signed up to be a reddit Rematch Secret Santa, and I was on an expedition to get some gifts. I won’t say what I got, but I think my recipient should be fairly pleased, as I hit many of the “likes” in their profile.

George Street in smoky haze

I got home and planned to spend the day writing up a new Proof the Earth is a Globe, but a little thing happened in Iran/Iraq that distracted me for a bit. I did eventually get into it, but I’m maybe only a third through writing it. Hopefully I can finish and post it tomorrow.

New content today:

Rain!

This morning I took a long walk to the shopping centre at Chatswood, a few suburbs away. I had to go to a specific shop to get a replacement filter for our vacuum cleaner. According to Strava, the walk was 6.15 km. It felt good, because I haven’t been doing enough getting out and exercising in the past couple of weeks. The day was cool and cloudy, so it was a nice time to be out.

And then this afternoon when I took Scully out to the dog park there was some thunder, and it actually rained for a couple of minutes! Sydney had 1.6 mm of rain back on Christmas Day, and the previous time it rained was 2.4 mm on 27 November. The last heavy rain we had was in mid-September. This is very weird for Sydney, which normally gets around 100 mm of rain every month throughout the year. All the grass around here is dying and turning a crunchy brown. Hopefully today’s few drops will refresh it a bit.

Work-wise, today I finished off making the new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips, and started writing annotations for them.

New content today:

Taking a breath, and it’s smoky

The weather was much cooler today, thankfully. The bushfire situation, while still bad, at least wasn’t terrible today. So it was a bit of a breather, before the next round of heatwave conditions hits. But cooler weather in Sydney is brought by a southerly wind, and south is where most of the fires are, so the air quality here deteriorated today, and reached well into the highest “hazardous” level this afternoon. It’s been a lot worse a few weeks ago, but it was noticeable and nasty, and my throat is sore this evening.

I spent most of the day making Irregular Webcomic! strips, in between monitoring the news and watching some cricket on TV. I should finish this batch tomorrow.

New content today:

Fiery hot

I don’t even know where to begin today. It’s been a dreadful day so far, and it’s probably going to get worse overnight. We’ve had record breaking heat over much of south-eastern Australia today. It’s nearly 10pm where I live and it’s still 34°C outside. At Penrith, a Sydney suburb where I have family living, it reached 48.9°C (120°F) today, smashing the old record high temperature within the Sydney boundary by 1.6 degrees.

A cool change has been moving up the south coast and is expected to hit Sydney around midnight. But that also brings strong winds, which could be even worse for the huge fires burning all over the place.

So far today we only have preliminary news reports indicating some indeterminate number of buildings destroyed. We won’t know until the sun rises tomorrow what sort of numbers we’re looking at. Or how many people may have gone missing or been killed.

Honestly, it’s getting exhausting just following the news day after day, even from the safety of my inner city home. People I know have been evacuated or had their homes under imminent danger of being destroyed. It’s hard to do anything else.

I did manage to make one new Darths & Droids strip today, but that’s about it, in between a bit of random homekeeping stuff, and going out with my wife and Scully for dinner. We sat at an outdoor table at a restaurant (because of Scully), watching the blood red sun set through the smoky sky. Everyone else was inside in the air conditioning. We were just sitting there, relaxing, and it was so hot that sweat was dripping and rolling down my body, even after the sun had gone down.

Tomorrow should be cooler, and hopefully there will be some relief from the fires, until the cycle builds up to another stinking hot day. It’s still early in the summer.

New content today:

Safety and games

My aunt has made it out of the bushfire danger area, after four days stranded at her holiday home, cut off from all external access by the bushfires. The road reopened briefly and emergency services personnel escorted vehicles out to safety in small groups – in case damaged trees fell across the road and cut travellers off, they wanted to make sure they knew where everyone was. She’s now back with family and safe. Whether her holiday house survives today is another story which we have to wait and see.

To take some pressure off, last night I attended the fortnightly games night of my group of gaming buddies. I played a game of 7 Wonders: Duel with the host while waiting for others to arrive. I hadn’t played this game for several years and was trying to remember strategy on the fly, so was at a bit of a disadvantage, but I managed to only lose by 2 points: 64-62, so I was pretty pleased with that.

When others arrived we had dinner, and then launched into a game of Wingspan.

Wingspan game

Rather than collect birds with lots of activated powers, like most people do, I tried a very different strategy, going for birds that gave me extra Goal cards, and then trying to fulfil as many of the goals as possible. I ended up with 4 Goal cards, requiring me to collect: birds that only nest in wetlands, birds that only eat invertebrates, birds with wingspans under 30cm, and birds with anatomical body parts in their name (e.g. roseate spoonbill). I managed to maximally fulfil 3 of the 4 goals, and partly complete the fourth, for a total of 25 goal points, which was way more than anyone else got. The issue was I got zero egg points, and moderately low scores for the other point categories. I was worried that pursuing a radical strategy might not be viable, and I’d lose by a lot, but it turned out those 25 points helped me to third place out of 5 players, not far behind second place, so again I was fairly happy with that result.

New content today:

Back to work

It’s the 2nd of January, and back to work for many people. My wife went back to her office, and I spent the whole morning taking photos for the new batch of Irregular Webcomic! that I’ve been writing over the past few days.

I didn’t finish until a bit after midday, by which time I was hungry for lunch. I didn’t want to eat the last of the bread in the house, since then my wife would have nothing to eat when she arrived home from work. So I went for a walk up to the local fish & chip shop… only to find it still closed for the holidays. And the cafe next door was closed too. It’s only a tiny cluster of shops, and there was nowhere else to get lunch, so I had to walk over to the next suburb. There’s a pie shop there that I like, and I figured I’d get a pie.

But when I got there, that too was closed! But nearby was a supermarket, so I went in there and bought some supplies: falafels and flatbread, and some milk. Then I walked back home – I did 4 km by the time I got back home, almost an hour after I’d left, and I still hadn’t eaten lunch!

This afternoon I assembled a few of the comics, while keeping an eye on news. My aunt is doing fine at Lake Conjola, she was able to send messages out today. But the road is still blocked by fires and she can’t leave. She says she has enough food and water. Hopefully some time tomorrow the roads will open and she can get out before Saturday, which is forecast to be another stupidly hot and windy day, with dangerous conditions basically all the way south down the coast from Sydney to Victoria. Everywhere along there has been advised to evacuate today, and thousands of people are streaming out of the area – except in the region around Lake Conjola, where there remains no open road.

New content today:

New Year’s Day, and fire update

I didn’t bother staying up until midnight last night. I was too tired and just wanted some sleep. Although the fireworks on Sydney Harbour woke me up again at midnight.

I got up this morning and checked for any information from my aunt and uncle, after yesterday’s events. It turned out I was under the wrong impression. My aunt had travelled down to the holiday home, but my uncle and their two children had stayed home, intending to join her later. So my aunt was actually trapped in the town last night by herself (with other residents). My uncle tried to drive down yesterday to join her, but was stopped by the roadblock at Kiama, and never made it.

This morning, as far as my family is concerned, the news was good. My aunt is safe, and their holiday home was spared, although fire swept through Conjola Park, just west of Lake Conjola. Overnight, at least 89 houses were destroyed in Conjola Park, but only 3 in Lake Conjola.

Here’s a photo of one of the homes there last night. (I don’t know who took the photo – my cousin sent it to everyone in my family via Facebook.)

Fire in Conjola

Fortunately, there was a wind change in the evening which pushed the fire front away from Lake Conjola, sparing most of the houses there. The weather today is cooler and less windy, which is good.

Unfortunately, there’s no power or communications available over much of the NSW south coast, and the Lake Conjola road is still cut by fire, so nobody there can get out. Food and water supplies are limited. My aunt only managed to get word to us that she’s safe by driving out towards the roadblocks to pick up a cell phone signal, before driving back to the town to shelter for tonight. The road is likely to stay closed for at least another 24 hours. But hopefully she’ll be able to get out tomorrow.

So for me it’s been another day of monitoring official news sources, and Facebook for news from my aunt. This story of people being trapped in coastal towns, with the only roads being cut by fire is repeated in several towns up and down the coast. There are large towns of several thousand people without power or cell phone access. And they’re starting to run out of food, clean water, and petrol. Even if the roads open and people can evacuate by road, there may not be enough fuel for all of them to drive out. Supermarkets are being cleaned out of food, with no supplies coming in. In some areas the water treatment plants have gone offline, and people are being told to boil all water before drinking or cooking with it. The navy has been mobilised to bring supplies to some of these towns by sea, and I expect there will be more of that tomorrow, as well as possible evacuations by sea.

In between I managed to write some more Irregular Webcomic strips. I should be ready to photograph this batch tomorrow.

New content today:

New Year’s Eve

I intended finishing off the writing of the next batch of Irregular Webcomic today, but instead I could barely do anything other than monitor the news all day, keeping up with what was happening with the bushfires burning across south-eastern Australia.

I’m fine here in Sydney, but I have a friend who travelled south down the coast with his wife and three kids, to spend the Christmas holiday period by the beach in a holiday home at Narooma. The south coast of New South Wales is a string of small towns linked by a single main road running north and south along the coast. Inland is mountains, with very few routes through them. During the day, as temperatures soared as high as 46°C, the fires spread and cut the highway both north and south of Narooma. They are stuck there with no way out, as fires close in from the north, west, and south.

As it turns out, they’re right in the middle, still quite far from the fire fronts, and Narooma is actually the evacuation point for people who were further north and south. So they’re safe for the time being.

However, my uncle and aunt, and their two (young adult) children are also holidaying down the coast, in Lake Conjola, which is further north. Around lunch time my aunt sent these photos to our family:

Lake Conjola Bushfire

Lake Conjola Bushfire

Lake Conjola Bushfire

Lake Conjola Bushfire

Shortly after that the power went out in the area. My aunt told us her phone battery was running low and there was no way to recharge it. They were leaving the house for the beach.

And since then nothing. Power is out along much of the south coast, and cell phone and Internet coverage is out too – there’s no way to communicate with anybody there. Even news services are patchy and not quite sure what’s going on in some of these towns.

I’m not especially worried about the safety of my friends or family. They’re in organised evacuations with thousands of other people. They have easy access to the beach and the ocean as a last resort – they should be safe from the fires. Their houses however…

I stayed at my aunt & uncle’s holiday home back in April this year. It’s a lovely place, which they’ve invested years and a good chunk of money in renovating from its previous state. I hope it’s still there tomorrow.

New content today:

And exhale…

Saturday dawned ominously here in Sydney, with catastrophic fire conditions officially declared, temperatures forecast as high as 47°C, and fires approaching population centres on the outskirts of the city. I spent much of the day monitoring news, in between starting work on a new Proof that the Earth is a Globe (not ready to post yet). Fortunately, things didn’t go nearly as badly as feared. Temperatures barely broke 40°C across Sydney (possibly because heavy smoke kept some sun out). A few homes were destroyed in the town of Lithgow, and as I type this one man is missing – hopefully he’ll be found alive. The three highways west and south of Sydney were all closed due to fire today – at one point there were only two viable routes to travel out of or into Sydney – but these have been reopened this evening. Things could easily have been so much worse.

The weather forecast for the next few days is a lot cooler, slowly building up to hot again after Christmas. Hopefully the firefighters can take advantage and limit any further danger to populated areas.

New content today:

Watching and waiting

This afternoon/evening was a family day, so not much to report other than that, and doing some grocery shopping in the morning.

My main preoccupation the last few days has been monitoring the news about the bushfires around Sydney, and the heatwave weather conditions. We had a brief respite today with lower temperatures with a sea breeze cooling things down along the coast. Tomorrow however is going to be the worst day of this heatwave, with temperatures of 47°C expected for parts of Sydney. Several temperature records are likely to fall.

And the fires have approached dangerously close to several towns. More homes and buildings were lost today, as well as two firefighters’ lives. Tomorrow is going to be terrible. Mass evacuations and some destroyed houses at best. I don’t want to think about the worst.

New content today: