A New Team Is Working To Predict The Danger Zones Of Australia's Deadliest Heatwaves

ABC NewsHelen Frost

Recognition of the impact of extreme heat is prompting stronger responses. (ABC News: Mary Lloyd)
Key points:
  • A new team will take a national approach and aims to predict heatwaves across Australia
  • It comes as nine of the past 14 years have been among the hottest on record
  • The Bureau of Meteorology is warning the record temperature trend is set to continue
It has been 10 years since Victoria's Black Saturday fires killed 173 people — the worst bushfires in Australia's history.
While the fires made headlines, the associated heatwave claimed another 374 lives in Victoria and another 50 in South Australia.
Now, a working group under the guidance of the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is developing a strategy to better predict that natural phenomenon.
Nine of the past 14 years have been among the hottest on record and 2018 was the third warmest in Australia's history.
In response to the danger posed by extreme heat, the Federal Government has formed the Emergency Management Australia-led National Heatwave Framework Working Group, with input from a range of departments.
John Nairn, the state manager of the BOM in South Australia, said the heat trend was set to continue.
"We are seeing heatwaves becoming much more intense," he said.
"One of the signals that we have to be mindful of though is that the minimum temperature is probably even more important than the maximum temperature.
"If we can't get recovery temperatures to actually discharge the heat, those very high temperatures, day-on-day, continue to build heat in the environment and the heatwaves become much more intense as a consequence.
"That is where we see the impacts unfold."
Right now, Europe is experiencing a heatwave which, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, is exceptionally intense.
A girl cools off in a Paris fountain during the recent heatwave. (AP: Alessandra Tarantino)
France set a new national record of 45.9 degrees Celsius and records have also been broken in Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria.
Closer to home, Adelaide hit a sweltering 46.6C on January 24 this year, surpassing the previous record set in Melbourne a decade ago to officially become the hottest capital in the country.

It's not just the elderly who are at risk
The national working group will use data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Geoscience Australia, the Department of Health and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
"We'll have a lot of the ingredients for how people can become exposed and the evidence of their exposure vulnerabilities," Mr Nairn said.
"We can hopefully identify the locations and the types of people who may well be exposed to those heatwaves."
The bureau currently issues heatwave charts, but is working on a predictability map. (Supplied: BOM)
According to Mr Nairn, the evidence that extreme heatwaves were increasing — and appearing very early and late in the season — was reflected in BOM's data.
"The BOM is leading a project that will build a heatwave predictability map for Australia," he said.
"That will enable us to combine that with our heatwave intensity measure that we do with our forecasting to determine where we think the community will be exposed and possible impacts."
The map should be able to predict how long and severe the heatwaves will be, allowing emergency, health and community services to put measures in place and deploy staff to cope with the heat.

What you need to know about cyclones
Cyclones are part and parcel of an Australian summer. Here's how they form and what they do.

The information would also go out to government departments, so they can plan for the excess power consumption during prolonged periods of heat, to help avoid blackouts.
But the planning side of things is only part of the battle — another problem with heatwaves is that people can underestimate the risks.
Research undertaken by University of Adelaide public health expert Peng Bi showed that most people believed a heatwave was something that would not impact them.
"A lot of people think 'OK a heatwave, hot days in summer are not unusual, that is a normal phenomenon' — but in fact it is not. I think that is a very dangerous perception," Professor Bi said.
"From our study we found that the elderly, outdoor workers and migrant communities are the most vulnerable populations in our community, so we need to do something for them."
The elderly make up a large number of the deaths during extreme heat, but the figures also took into consideration ambulance call-outs, hospital presentations, drownings and the consequences for people with chronic health issues such as cardiovascular disease.
In addition to that, they also include festival and alcohol-related deaths.
A large crowd at Groovin' the Moo festival. (ABC Central Victoria: Corey Hague)
"[On] hot days, a lot of people drink alcohol, they are wandering around the streets and alcohol-driven street violence sometimes happens," Professor Bi said.
"At a large event, that's why we see an increased police presence on really hot days."

State borders determine heatwave responses
Each state and territory has its own heatwave response approach, with different triggers and thresholds for their local communities.
They also have different government agencies responsible for warning systems and plans.
In South Australia for example, the State Emergency Service (SES) takes the lead.
"South Australia has a whole-of-government heatwave planning framework," SES chief officer Chris Beattie said.
"Once we are aware some extreme heat conditions are forecast, we will activate cross-government heatwave warning protocols and arrangements.
"Within each department there are a range of specific triggers which will be activated."
The SES take the lead in South Australia. (ABC News: Gordon Taylor)
 There are different state and federal projects looking at how to better respond to heatwaves, and fix holes in the current system.
For instance, South Australian heatwaves are currently mapped using Adelaide temperatures for the whole state.
The SES is also working with other agencies and academics to develop a new modelling technique that will allow it to adapt its response.
The team hopes to have it set up in time for the hot and dry weather already predicted this summer.
"We are now working with the University of Adelaide and the BOM to provide a gridded data set that can provide a data-rich source of information at the township level," Mr Beattie said.
"So, in terms of providing information and warnings to the broader community, we can move beyond a whole-of-state heatwave warning threshold to individual tailored thresholds for communities."

Working out the death toll is not easy
One of the main issues in addressing heat problems in Australia is the inconsistent way death tolls have been calculated and reported.
Different agencies cite different figures, and it is often unclear which is the most accurate.
For example, following South Australia's two-week heatwave in 2009, there were three different figures.
SA Health stated there were 33 deaths, the coroner's office said there had been 58 and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) put the figure at 96.
An ice delivery man cools off in SA's far north, the day Adelaide's temperature hit 46.6C. (ABC News)
Mr Beattie explained that those different approaches were one of the biggest challenges facing authorities as they tried to prepare and plan for heatwaves across the country.
"Actually capturing that data and cleaning it and understanding it is a complex process," he said.
"Depending on which methodology you use, you'll get a different result as to how many fatalities there have been for any given event.
"It's not just the direct heat deaths that we need to be worried about, it's the coincidental deaths that occur — from illnesses that are exacerbated, from increased accident rates in the workplace and our roads and through other events such as drownings."
The BOM has already issued its outlook for spring which has forecast more hot and dry weather.
The weather pattern is indicating below-average rainfall through central and eastern Australia, which covers around two thirds of the continent.

Be prepared for the heat
Heatwaves kill far more people than other natural disasters. ABC Emergency has a checklist of things you can do to be ready. 

John Nairn said the BOM was getting better at providing heatwave advice to communities.
"Last year we were preparing the community for a hotter summer and an earlier start and I suppose those chickens came home to roost when Queensland's epic fires started in October, and the heatwave hit the wet tropical coast in early November," he said.
"Those messages were accurate, so we're building confidence that the bureau can provide good advice.
"Certainly the dialogue that we have with the emergency services agencies and the departments of health and the like are becoming more meaningful over time, so we are helping the community prepare."
The new working group has one year to develop the predictability map and understand the data types required.
"It would be nice to think we will have something in place by the end of the year," Mr Nairn said.
"But there are many agencies coming together for this, for the first time, to look at each other's data.
"It's not a trivial exercise."


No comments :

Post a Comment

Lethal Heating is a citizens' initiative