A heatwave is a prolonged period of extreme heat. Heatwaves are characterised by exceptionally warm nights making it difficult for people and machinery to cool down.
During the 20th century, heatwaves caused more deaths in Australia than any other natural hazard. With global warming resulting in increased temperatures and extreme weather events becoming much more common, heatwaves have become a part of life in Australia.
Heatwaves can have a detrimental impact on communities. They affect many parts of everyday life such as health and wellbeing, energy and infrastructure, public transport and agriculture. They can also contribute to an increased fire risk and heat stressed trees, which pose a significant threat to public safety.
Government, businesses, communities and individuals all have a role to play in preparing for and responding to a heatwave.
What can you do?
Communities and individuals cannot rely on government alone to prepare for and respond to heatwaves. By knowing what to do before and during a heatwave you can help reduce the effects on your, your family, home and business.
Prepare early. Service or replace your air conditioner before you need it. Curtains, awnings and blinds can also help to keep a building cool.
Heat can affect anyone, but some people run a greater risk of serious harm. Those at serious risk include:
- Elderly people
- Babies and young children
- People with serious mental health problems
- People on certain medications
- People with serious chronic conditions (particularly breathing or heart problems)
- People who already have a high temperature
- People with mobility problems
- People who misuse alcohol or take illicit drugs
- People who are physically active, such as manual workers and sports people
- Drink plenty of fluids but avoid alcoholic and caffeinated drinks
- Make regular contact with elderly relatives, friends and neighbours, especially if they live alone, to ensure they are keeping cool and drinking plenty of fluids
- Keep homes cool by closing blinds and curtains during the day and making good use of fans or airconditioners (which are on the cool setting)
- Stay indoors and open up homes at night if it cools down
- Limit outdoor activities to mornings and evenings
- When outdoors wear light, loose-fitting clothing, as well as a broad-rimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
- Ensure babies and young children stay out of the sun and are provided with extra fluids, dress them lightly and keep them cool
- If you have an ongoing mental health condition you should continue to take your medication, stay in touch with family or friends and seek medical help if you start to feel unwel
- Never leave children or pets unattended in the car
- Make use of airconditioned public facilities such as shopping centres, cinemas and libraries, if appropriate
- Be aware of the symptoms of heat stress and if they develop, take cool baths or showers and use cool packs or wet towels to cool down
- Remember that cordless landline telephones do not work during power outages. Make sure you have alternative means of communication
- Consider the safety of your pets and animals. Wet them down and ensure they are kept cool
- Be aware that the effects of the heatwave on human health may continue for some period after it ends
For further information on:
- Medical advice for the symptoms of heat stress
- Heatwave information guide
- Services, transport, energy and power outages
refer to the Heatwave Information page on this site.