Rebecca Hersher

Spring begins today in America. Good.

Perhaps you are mildly surprised to learn that March 19 is the first day of spring. Perhaps you learned as a child that the spring equinox — when day and night are roughly the same length — occurs on either March 20 or March 21.

Everyone who lived through Black Saturday remembers the heat and the wind that day in February 2009. The temperature soared to 115 degrees Fahrenheit — so hot it sucked the breath out of you, made your vision swim and your fingers swell. The wind blew in from the northwest, from the vast, arid Australian interior. Flags flew stiff. Fire danger was extreme.

Updated Feb. 21, 11:56 a.m. ET

Coming off a shift at Tuen Mun Hospital in Hong Kong on Wednesday night, cardiologist Alfred Wong was getting ready to go to dinner with his wife. The last time they ate together, she brought the meal to the courtyard below their apartment, placed it on a bench, then sat down at least 10 feet away.

From across the patio, they ate. On separate benches. Looking at each other.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. After listening to those voices, I want to bring in one of our colleagues who is covering this outbreak. It's NPR science reporter Becky Hersher, who is reporting from Hong Kong. Hi, Becky.

First came the fires, denuding millions of acres of forest in eastern Australia. Now comes the rain, more than 12 inches in just 48 hours over this past weekend in some areas of New South Wales.

That sequence, severe bushfires followed by torrential rain, is bringing a third cataclysm — landslides and large-scale erosion.

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