We Australians have a long held love affair with the warmer months. We enjoy our days at the beach and balmy nights relaxing in the backyard with a beer and a barbeque. We are outdoor, sun-loving people.
There is however an urgent need for greater awareness of the risks that the warmer months bring. The summer of 2012/2013 was Australia’s hottest since records began in 1910 and was dubbed ‘The Angry Summer’ by the Climate Commission. It was dominated by extreme weather including record-breaking heat, ferocious bushfires and damaging floods. The Climate Commission believes it’s almost certain that extreme weather events will become more frequent as our climate changes. Putting aside the climate change debate and its causes, it is indisputable that heat waves are dangerous and possibly represent our most underrated weather risk. The onset of extreme heat isn’t sudden and spectacular like a cyclone or flood and death tolls are not always immediately obvious. And yet heat waves have killed more people than any other natural hazard in Australia over the past 200 years.
As we get older, our ability to tolerate heat can diminish and heat stress holds greater risks. The good news is that with a little preparation, you can minimise your risk. The best thing you can do is to plan ahead. The Bureau of Meteorology recently announced that it intends to trial warnings for forthcoming heat waves. So keep an eye on your local weather forecast and arrange with a friend or family member to stay in touch on those days. When the heat hits remember these simple guidelines:
- Be an early bird or a night owl. Plan your day around the heat and avoid being outside during the hottest hours;
- Keep your fluids up with plenty of cool drinks but avoid alcohol and caffeine-based options;
- Rest and keep physical activity to a minimum;
- If it is hot but not humid, pop a bowl of ice in front of your fan and enjoy the cool breeze;
- Enjoy a cool shower or sponge bath. Keep a spray bottle handle for the occasional cooling spritz;
- Keep your doors and windows shaded until the heat passes.
Keeping these guidelines in mind will help you keep safe in Australia’s hottest months.