Thursday 2 February 2017

Australia's deadly relationship with heat

January was hottest month on record in Sydney and Brisbane, says weather bureau
Sydney’s average maximum temperature was 29.6C and Brisbane’s was 27.2C, with spell of hot weather continuing in February

1 February, 2017

Sydney and Brisbane residents have just sweated through the hottest month on record.

Sydney’s average maximum temperature for January was 29.6C, beating the previous mark of 29.5C recorded in 1896, the Bureau of Meteorology said on Wednesday.

Last month Sydney had 11 days when the temperature topped 30C and five days above 35C, smashing not only all previous records for the month but for any month since records began in 1858.

Anyone that’s been feeling really uncomfortable can feel 100% justified in their complaints,” Bureau of Meteorology climatologist Agata Imielska said. “It’s the warmest month for Sydney.”

January’s average minimum was 21.6C, breaking the previous January record of 21C in 1991 and the previous average minimum for any month which had been 21.2C in February 2010.

Only three days dropped below 25C as a maximum in January 2017 and that’s the equal fewest on record with January 1994,” Imielska said.

Brisbane also experienced its hottest January on record as temperatures climbed almost two degrees above the monthly average.

Data released by the Bureau of Meteorology showed Brisbane’s temperature average maximum of 27.2C, well above the mean of 25.4C and breaking the previous record of 27C set in 2004.

The average minimum temperature topped 23C throughout January, breaking the 22.8C recorded in 1973.

Logan City and Brisbane Airport also broke records for the hottest January since data collection in both areas began more than 20 years ago.

The latest bureau statistics showed why so many southeast Queenslanders struggled to sleep over the past month.

Brisbane also recorded its equal hottest minimum daily temperature on 21 January 21. The mercury only went as low as 28C, last recorded on 29 January 1940.

Bureau spokesman Michael Knepp warned the hot weather was set to continue into this month. The temperature is expected to climb to 35C in Brisbane on Thursday, with a minimum of 24C.

Imielska said Sydney’s record-breaking temperatures were due to a combination of strong westerly winds, unusually dry conditions, less than average rainfall and climate change.

One factor is the ongoing warming trend – we’ve warmed by a degree in the past century and it’s not just about averages, we see increases in these extreme temperatures as well,” Imielska said.

It doesn’t just go for land temperatures, it also goes for ocean temperatures. In 2016 we saw the warmest ocean temperatures on record.”

The persistent heat has been aggravated by dry conditions since October caused by a high-pressure system sitting over the Tasman Sea, which has increased westerly winds moving over southern Australia.

We’ve also had warm offshore sea surface temperatures – that also keeps conditions warmer, particularly at night,” Imielska said. “As a result we have seen that back-to-back heat and the lack of relief – the surprising thing is that there haven’t been any really cool days.”

Sydney conditions are due to heat up again over the next few days with the mercury expected to hit 37C in the city and 43C in the west on Sunday.

Australia's deadly relationship with heat
Phil Mercer

31 January, 2017

As a homesick teenager in Britain in the early 1900s, the writer Dorothea Mackellar yearned for the "pitiless blue sky" of Australia.
"I love a sunburnt country," she declared in her timeless poem My Country, and more than a century after those famous words were crafted, parts of Australia have endured another savage summer of heat. Sydney has had its hottest December and January nights on record and there have been new year heatwaves in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

The bursts of scorching conditions are not only uncomfortable, they can be a silent killer. Doctors are worried that many Australians are underestimating the dangers posed by the heat, the nation's deadliest natural hazard.

Deadlier than fires

In 2009, 173 people died in the Black Saturday bushfires in the state of Victoria, one of the most fire-prone regions in the world. However, more than twice as many victims lost their lives in a heatwave that preceded the fires.
"What we are seeing increasingly is weather that really pushes us to our limits," Dr Tessa Kennedy from the Australian Medical Association of New South Wales told the BBC. "Many people don't know that heatwaves are actually more harmful to human health than bushfires and floods."

Mackellar's epic love of the bush was forged in sun-baked rural New South Wales where her family owned land near Gunnedah. About 200km (124 miles) to the north, the people of Moree have been sweltering through an unprecedented heatwave. The temperature in the farming town that sits atop rich black-soil plains exceeded 35C every day in January, a record in New South Wales, beating the previous benchmark of 17 consecutive days.
Meteorologists believe it could near another record this week - seven successive days above 40C.
"We are sick of it," said Katrina Humphries, the mayor of the Moree Plains Shire Council. "Our son Robert and daughter-in-law Jacqueline moved back to Norfolk [in England] a couple of years ago because the heat here was so horrific.
"We slow down a lot though the middle of the day and look forward to the day when it cools down and we get some rain."

Who is at risk?
It's the very young, infirm and those over the age of 75 who are most risk from searing temperatures.
Heat-related illness, which can occur when body temperature exceeds 37.8C, includes dehydration, cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The consequences can be catastrophic, resulting in heart attacks, brain damage and death. Finding out exactly how the heat has killed an individual is often hard because many victims have pre-existing medical conditions, which can be exacerbated when it is very hot.
In early January, a Virgin Australia pilot died of dehydration and exhaustion while quad-biking in the Beerburrum State Forest, north of Brisbane. It was reported that 30-year old Matthew Hall's body temperature had reached 42C, which caused his organs to shut down. He died of critical heat stroke, two weeks before his wife was due to give birth to their first child.
More than 500 people die of heat stress across the nation each year, according to the Australia Medical Association. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include a rapid heart rate, headaches, nausea and fainting.
As the mercury climbs, spare a thought for those workers who have to endure roasting conditions on roofs, building sites or fuel depots, although they should be protected by strict health and safety laws.
"If it is 38C you are supposed to be not working," Tony Sheldon, the head of the Transport Workers Union, told the BBC. "There are a number of precautions that should be taken; hydration, proper clothing, rest periods. It is critical that people have those opportunities to get out of the heat and they have a legal right to do that."
Lifestyle under threat?
Australia's Bureau of Meteorology defines a heatwave as "three days or more of high maximum and minimum temperatures that is unusual for that location".
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Media captionDr Angie Bone of Public Health England offers some tips and dispels some myths on staying cool
Conservationists have argued that Australia's fabled alfresco lifestyle could be in jeopardy because more severe heat could restrict the amount of time people can safely spend outside. Scientists, too, believe that the world's driest inhabited continent is becoming hotter.
"There is clear evidence that heatwaves are intensifying in Australia. The overall trend in heatwaves is caused by global warming," said Andy Pitman, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System, a collaboration of various universities and research organisations.
"I was recently in southern Sicily and no-one was out and about in the extreme heat - activities took place in the morning and evening. One can imagine… problems for sports that take all day [cricket, for example]. There are also major economic risks - human productivity drops off in the heat, so construction is already at risk. Agriculture is threatened by extreme heat, too."
As the latest blanket of oppressive heat and humidity smothered Sydney, the city seemed to slip into slow-motion to cope, although there were some die-hard runners pounding the pavements.
"Ah, I'm not too bad, mate," said one man, his face lobster-red and shirt dripping with sweat. "Us Aussies grew up with it, so it is not a big deal."

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