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Forecast: Cyclone threat and heatwave in Australia, Russia holds presidential election, and possible Israeli military action against Hezbollah

Standing at a lectern against a blue background is an older gentleman in a black suit with a purple tie. The lectern has the Russian seal on it.

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

While Australia’s scorching heatwave continues, some residents are bracing for more extreme weather with a potential cyclone approaching Western Australia. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Matthew Hipolito discuss the areas hit the hardest — including one that has seen a year’s worth of rain in four days — and the looming forecast. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of March 15-22
A Look Ahead

March 15 – Reported Israel deadline for diplomatic talks with Lebanon  

According to Lebanon’s Hezbollah-linked media reports, Israel has set a deadline for Friday to reach a diplomatic deal with the Iran-backed group.

What’s happened so far
Senior U.S. Envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Lebanon earlier this month to meet with officials in the country, including caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mijati, in an attempt to mediate negotiations between Israel and Lebanon. The border between southern Lebanon and northern Israel has seen near-daily cross-border artillery and drone strikes since October’s Hamas-led offensive, killing more than 200 Hezbollah operatives and 40 civilians on the Lebanese side and displacing more than 60,000 civilians on the Israeli side.

The impact 
Mediators of the ongoing parallel negotiations suggest neither Hamas nor Israel are close to finalizing a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, and both Israeli and U.S. officials have added that even if a ceasefire is reached in the Palestinian enclave before the reported deadline, it would not necessarily impact the Lebanese frontline. Israel has repeatedly threatened to invade Lebanon on multiple occasions since the start of the war on Gaza. But an official crossing of the disputed UN-demarcated Blue Line dividing the two countries would risk bringing the Iran-backed Hezbollah, with a much more extended military capability than Hamas, into an active role in the ongoing war.

March 17 – Russian election  

Voting will conclude in Russia’s presidential election Sunday after kicking off Thursday.

What’s happened so far 
The presidential race marks the first since 2018 in Russia, and the first since the 2022 full invasion of Ukraine lurched Russia even further down the path of being a political system free of pluralism. President Vladimir Putin is standing for his unprecedented fifth term in office, with this vote being the first since a spate of constitutional reforms in 2020 reset his term count, setting him up to remain Russia’s ruler through 2036, nearly four decades in power. 

The impact 
The outcome of the election is all but predetermined with Putin facing as little opposition as he ever has, though vote share and turnout will serve as important barometers of contemporaneous Russian apathy toward the political status quo. While the scale and scope of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and the resources required to sustain such a large war machine are largely unprecedented in modern times, Russian citizens remain largely apathetic to the war, leaving it somewhat out of sight. Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories also get a vote, and the recent trend of a large uptick in successful Ukrainian drone strikes deep within Russia could serve to disrupt voting. 

March 18 – First over-the-counter birth control pill for sale in U.S.  

U.S. consumers will be able to buy a birth control pill without a prescription for the first time when Opill goes on sale in pharmacies Monday.

What’s happened so far 
The FDA approved the sale of Opill without a prescription in July 2023, a decision intended to improve access to contraception by removing the requirement to first see a healthcare professional. Manufacturer Perrigo began shipping the medication to major retailers and pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, earlier in March. Opill is a progesterone-only birth control pill, also known as a minipill, and must be taken at the same time every day to be effective.

The impact 
The United States lags globally when it comes to birth control access, as contraceptive pills are available over the counter in most countries across Asia, Latin America and parts of Africa. Opill’s approval goes some way to closing that gap, but it remains prohibitively expensive for people on lower incomes, costing around $20 a month. There will be no lower age limit for those purchasing Opill, which experts hope will improve access to contraception for teenagers and younger women. 

March 18 – Pause on Texas immigration law ends 

A U.S. Supreme Court stay on a controversial immigration-enforcement law in Texas will end Monday if no further action is taken. 

What’s happened so far 
In December, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4, which would allow state police to arrest people suspected of illegally crossing the border with Mexico and give judges the power to order their removal from the United States. Opponents have argued the bill is unconstitutional and preempted by federal law, with the Justice Department filing suit in January

The impact 
The hold, issued by Justice Samuel Alito, gives the high court additional time to review briefings on the case, but does not signal how the 6-3 conservative majority may rule. Critics warn that if the court allows the law to take effect, states would have “broad leeway” to act against foreign nationals, which could come to the detriment of international relations.

March 19 – IOC to discuss Russia, Belarus participation in Paris 2024 ceremony  

Officials from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will meet Tuesday to discuss the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Paris 2024 Olympics opening ceremony.

What’s happened so far 
In a press conference last week, the games’ executive director said that, while athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport are currently allowed to participate in the games as individual neutral athletes, without flags or anthems, the issue of them joining the opening ceremony would be discussed during the next meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. Athletes who actively support the war in Ukraine are banned from the competition. Meanwhile in the Paralympic Games, Russian and Belarusian athletes will not be part of the opening ceremony.

The impact 
While the IOC announced that Russian and Belarusian athletes can participate in the games, which will take place in Paris between July 26 and Aug. 11, they can only take part as “neutral individuals” and no team participation is permitted. Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned the decision, and there remains concerns that Russia could boycott the Olympics, denying national athletes a chance to enter in the competition. Separately, the International Paralympic Committee previously announced that Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Paralympic Games will not be permitted to take part in the opening and closing ceremonies as they must also only participate as “neutrals”

What Else Matters

Weather map of the heat dome in Australia showing extreme temperatures in Western and Centralia Australia.
A heat dome has brought in a run of extreme heat of “unprecedented” length to Australia’s southeast, with scorching temperatures in multiple towns in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. (Map: Australian Bureau of Meteorology)

Severe weather in Australia 

Australia must deal with the concerning combination of cyclones and extreme heat in the coming weeks as multiple atmospheric phenomena descend upon the region. A heat dome has brought in a run of extreme heat of “unprecedented” length to the country’s southeast, with scorching temperatures in multiple towns in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. The South Australian Ambulance service responded to at least 48 heat-related illness calls. Meanwhile, the Madden-Julian oscillation, a normal atmospheric trend observed around this time of year, has created multiple tropical lows that may develop into cyclones in northern waters while threatening heavy rainfall on the coast and inland.

Watch for: High temperatures are projected to continue on-and-off for several weeks, centered between Brisbane and Sydney. These conditions create a heightened risk of out-of-season wildfires, with some areas seeing high fire danger ratings in the coming days. On the wetter end of the weather spectrum, authorities are tracking one confirmed tropical low, 08U, that has a “high” chance of developing into a tropical cyclone, and two possible lows, 09U and 10U, that have a low chance of becoming cyclones. 08U has already brought some damaging winds and rains to the Cocos (Keeling) and Christmas Islands, and the storms overall are forecast by private meteorology company Weatherzone to bring “huge” rains to areas of the north Australian coast.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigns amid gang violence 

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigned earlier this week, amid pressure from the intergovernmental Caribbean group CARICOM, as well as from the United States, France and Canada. The move comes after a surge of gang violence swept the nation, most prominently in Port-au-Prince, where a coalition of armed gangs under the auspices of former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier has to a large extent taken control of the capital. Large-scale prison breaks, attacks on critical infrastructure and widespread violence has left at least 160,000 people displaced, dozens killed and injured and, in its wake, a severe humanitarian crisis. 

Watch for: Once the transitional presidential council of nine members from political parties, private sector and civil society is installed, Henry will resign immediately, but gang leaders said they will reject any foreign or international influence on the transition. It is unlikely that violence across the country and capital will effectively end with Henry’s resignation, especially now that Kenya has retracted its offer to send police officers to Haiti, and it is yet to be seen which candidates emerge as the frontrunners for the presidency. Candidates could include popular former police officer Guy Philippe, leader of the coup two decades ago, and leader of the Petit Desalin political party, Moïse Jean-Charles. 

India citizenship law 

India this week started implementing a law that grants expedited citizenship to refugees from neighboring nations, but only if they’re not Muslim. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has increasingly embraced Hindu nationalism over his decade in office, had held off on the legislation approved by parliament in 2019 due to widespread protests that escalated to violence and left dozens of people dead.

Watch for: India’s government announced the law will go into effect on Monday, drawing criticism from its main opposition, India National Congress party, for using the issue to influence elections that are due to be held by May. Protests have started in New Delhi and spread to other cities, prompting large deployments of police forces and preemptive arrests. The law gives nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan — all three Muslim-majority nations — who entered its territory before the end of 2014 the right to fast-track naturalization if they can meet the requirement of identifying themselves as Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains or Christians.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

March 14-22 

March 14

  • Angola president to visit China

March 15

  • Israel threatens to launch war against Hezbollah if no deal to withdraw

March 17 

  • Russia presidential election

March 18

  • First over-the-counter birth control pill for sale in U.S.

March 19 

  • Special election for seat of former US.. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy

March 23-29 

March 23

  • Slovakia presidential election

March 25 

  • Trump’s New York City criminal trial regarding hush money payments

March 26

  • U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on abortion pill case

March 28

  • Poland-Ukraine government talks in Warsaw

March 30-April 5 

March 31

  • Easter

April 2

  • End of Senegalese president’s term

April 4

  • Kuwait calls on voters to elect members of the national assembly

April 6-12

April 6

  • Slovakia presidential runoff

April 8

  • Total solar eclipse

April 10

  • President Biden to host Japanese Prime Minister Kishida for state visit
  • South Korea legislative elections

April 11

  • 2024 Masters at Augusta National

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