November 29, 2018 / 1:16 AM / 13 days ago

Australia poised for sweltering summer, threatening cattle industry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia is set for a hotter-than-average summer, the country’s weather bureau said on Thursday, threatening one the world’s largest cattle industries and stoking the risk of bushfires.

FILE PHOTO: Climbers can be seen walking up the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge behind the roof of the Sydney Opera House on a hot summer day in Australia, October 30, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said there was an 80 percent chance the vast majority of the country would record warmer-than-average temperatures between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28.

It also predicted a 30 percent chance the country’s northeast and northwest would receive average rainfall over those three months.

The climate outlook threatens to ramp up pressure on Australia’s cattle industry, which has been forced to slaughter animals in near record numbers over the last couple of months after scorching weather wilted pastures and dried dams.

“The industry has been through a tough time already. International export demand has prevented a bigger impact, but what happens if this dries up?” said Phin Ziebell, agribusiness economist at National Australia Bank.

“There is a big downside risk for the cattle industry.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said earlier this month that more than 350,000 cattle were slaughtered nationwide in September, the highest in more than three years.

The slaughtering upturn comes as Australia’s cattle industry was battling to rebuild herds after the strongest El Nino in nearly 20 years saw the national herd fall to a three-decade low in 2016.

The unfavorable weather outlook also increases worries over bushfires.

Recent hot weather in Queensland, on Australia’s northeast coast, triggered 100 fires that are still burning, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Joseph Radford

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