Bushfire-style emergency warnings will now be issued for heatwaves across Australia, as authorities warn their dangers are potentially being overlooked.
- The new warnings will be issued by emergency websites and broadcasters
- Research shows heatwaves are Australia’s most deadly natural hazard
- Above-average summer temperatures are forecast for much of the country
The new alert system is based on the Australian Warning System and has three phases: ‘advice’, ‘watch and act’ and ’emergency’.
Announcing the change on Thursday, WA Health said the new alerts would be issued via the WA Emergency website and on ABC Radio, as well as other broadcasters. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) will also continue to issue warnings.
WA Health said it would be a national approach.
Research has shown heatwaves are the most deadly natural hazard in Australia, with the exception of disease epidemics.
Their frequency and intensity has increased across the globe in recent decades, a trend projected to continue under most future climate scenarios.
Fears ‘significant hazard’ underestimated
But the BOM’s Bradley Santos said their dangers were not as well recognised as other hazards.
“It’s a significant hazard,” he said.
“Perhaps not the hazard that people are most familiar with, such as tropical cyclones, severe storms or bushfires. [But] people do get impacted by heatwaves.”
Analysis of coronial records, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, showed there were 473 heat-related deaths reported in Australia between 2000 and 2018.
It found 354 of these occurring during heatwave conditions.
But other research suggests the number of reported heat-related deaths could vastly underestimate the actual number, with up to 36,000 deaths associated with heat between 2006 and 2017.
The study by the Australian National University assessed how often death certificates had “excessive natural heat” recorded as a contributory factor.
Another hot summer expected in WA
A heatwave is defined as a period of three or more days of abnormally and uncomfortably hot weather that is unusual for the location, and could impact human health, infrastructure and services.
They are often issued when both the daytime maximum and overnight minimum temperatures are unusually high.
Current outlooks by the BOM suggest above-average maximum and minimum temperatures are on the way for the majority of WA, the Northern Territory and Tasmania this summer.
It comes after Perth and large parts of WA’s south and central west experienced their hottest summer on record during 2021/22, marked by a record number of days of 40 degrees.
WA Chief Health Officer Andrew Robertson said they saw an increased number of presentations in WA hospitals during periods of extreme heat last summer.
“We certainly had increased cases during that period, so they do put an increased demand on the hospital,” he said.
“So we are encouraging people to do the right thing and listen to these warnings.”
He said heatwaves posed increased health risks to vulnerable populations, including elderly people, pregnant mothers, and very young children.
But he said people who were fit and well could also be affected.
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