Melbourne Highly Vulnerable To Killer Heatwaves

18:28' 20-08-2018
Heatwaves can cause significant numbers of deaths, especially among vulnerable groups of people who are not used to extreme hot temperatures or prepared for them. In short, many heatwave deaths occur because people are taken by surprise.

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    According to Thomas Longden, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide have been the cities of Australia most prone to deadly heatwave conditions.

    Mr Longden's study, which he summarises in an article in The Conversation, shows that between 2001 and 2015, Melbourne and Adelaide suffered the most exposure to temperatures beyond 7.26º C above the average. Above this “crucial threshold”, deaths are more likely, and he estimates that there were 151 deaths in Melbourne and 144 in Adelaide during this period.

    A Melbourne University study, released in March last year, found many of Melbourne's apartment blocks have little or no protection against overheating, and failed to meet overheating tests which are standards in Europe and the US. They depend on air conditioning for cooling, so if there were a power blackout during a heatwave, the buildings would heat up and the occupants would suffer.

    Mr Longden suggests that a failure to acclimatise to rising temperatures is a major factor in heat-related mortality. His study focusses on the “extreme heat index acclimatisation measure”, calculated by subtracting the 30-day temperature average from a 3-day average. This measure can help to identify the times when residents begin to struggle with the heat.

    Since the severe heatwaves of 2009, many states and territories have implemented or revised their heatwave response plans, or conducted campaigns to raise people's awareness about the health risks. A 2016 review proposed that heatwave response plans and early warning systems should be evaluated and updated at least every five years.

    Using Mr Longden's 7.26º C threshold, the Bureau of Meteorology could issue warnings of extreme heat risk periods, giving people a chance to prepare.

    Somchai R

     

     

     

     

     

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