Every summer, Australia deals with wildfires due to westerly winds which draw desert air from the center of the nation. These "westerlies" are cause by a phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole or "IOD."
The IOD is defined by a distribution of water temperatures across the Indian Ocean. The IOD can either be in positive, neutral or negative. In those three categories, water temperatures vary across the body of water. Right now, the IOD is in an abnormally high positive phase. In this case, warm waters have pooled along the east coast of Africa, with much, much cooler than normal waters having pooled near the west coast of Australia.
It's not usually like this in a normal "positive" phase. Because of this anomaly, stronger than normal "westerlies" are being experienced in Australia. This is leading to very dry conditions across the entire nation, and a far worse than normal fire season.
As of this afternoon, fires have burned more than 14 million acres of land across the continent. And at this point, you might be thinking to yourself, "Great. Another international news story, who cares?" Well, let's try to put what's going on into a local perspective.
I traced the highlighted area in Australia and superimposed that region into the Midwest, unaltered. It takes up our entire viewing area and stretches all the way up to Chicago.
This is an event that Australians will not soon forget.