- Understanding hot weather risks
- Staying safe in the heat
- Checklist for older people
- Caring for pets
- Resources to help you prepare for a heatwave
There’s no denying it’s getting hotter.
The current climate drivers, long-range forecast and recent conditions indicate an increased risk of heatwaves and bushfires this year.
For the 2023–24 season, the Bureau of Meteorology is expecting the following conditions:
- Heatwave – the forecast shows a high chance of unusually warm temperatures for most of Australia until at least February 2024.
- November to January rainfall is likely to be below average across much of western, southern and north-eastern Australia.
- November to January maximum and minimum temperatures are very likely to be above average for most of Australia.
- November to January maximum and minimum temperatures are at least 2.5 times more likely than normal to be unusually high for most of Australia.
Senior meteorologist Sarah Scully said Australians should prepare for dry and warm conditions with an increased risk of heatwaves and bushfire weather this spring and summer.
“Daytime and night-time temperatures have an increased chance of being unusually warm until February. Warm nights after hot days means little relief from heat and can lead to heat stress,” Ms Scully said.
SWSPHN Chief Executive Officer, Dr Keith McDonald PhD, attended the GWS Future Health Forum 2023 in October in Parramatta, presented by the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue.
Dr McDonald said one of the topics was of particular interest and concern to communities in South Western Sydney: Heat as a Health Threat in Greater Western Sydney.
“Discussion was around heat as one of Greater Western Sydney’s lesser-known killers. Panellists agreed it’s an issue that has compounding effects on the community and is becoming more serious over time,” Dr McDonald said.
On the back of the health forum was the release of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report Let’s talk about the weather: injuries related to extreme weather.
According to the report, extreme heat in Australia accounted for 7,104 injury hospitalisations and 293 deaths in the 10-year period analysed (2012-2022). Apart from Tasmania, exposure to excessive natural heat was the most common cause leading to injury hospitalisation in all states and territories.
The extreme weather report supports findings in the Climate, Health and Wellbeing in Western Parkland City (2023), a guidance document for the Western Sydney Health Alliance as part of the Increasing Resilience to Climate Change Project.
It is estimated there are three times as many heat-related deaths in Western Sydney during heatwaves than in Sydney’s east.
The Western Parkland City, which includes Camden, Campbelltown, Fairfield, Liverpool and Wollondilly shire, is being impacted by rising temperatures, with the number of days per year over 35C degrees in Western Sydney increasing from an average of 9.5 days in the 1970s to 15.4 days per year in the last decade. This is projected to increase to 12 days over 40C per year by 2090.
Dr McDonald said understanding the impact of excessive heat on the body and following some simple measures could decrease the risks of heatstroke and heat stress.
What is a heatwave?
Heatwaves are times of extreme heat, when the minimum and maximum temperatures are hotter than usual for three or more consecutive days.
When the weather is very hot, your body must work harder to produce more sweat to keep cool.
In some conditions, sweating is not enough and your body temperature can rise rapidly. This is more likely to happen when it is humid or when you are dehydrated and can’t produce enough sweat.
It is important your body temperature stays between 36.1 to 37.8˚C. If your body rises above this, you may develop signs of heat-related illness.
Heat-related illness occurs when the body absorbs too much heat. This may happen slowly over a day or two of extremely hot weather.
Act quickly to avoid serious—or even fatal—effects of fully developed heatstroke.
Signs of heatstroke
- Rapid pulse or weak pulse
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Dry, swollen tongue
- Trouble speaking
- Slurred speech
- Problems concentrating or coordinating movements
- Aggressive or strange behaviour
- Dizziness, confusion, seizures or loss of consciousness
- Sudden rise in body temperature
- Hot, dry and possibly red skin, possibly with no sweat
- Headache, nausea or vomiting
- Intense thirst
Signs of heat stress
- Rising body temperature
- Dry mouth and eyes
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Absence of tears when crying (children)
Who is at risk?
While most people find extremely hot weather and heatwaves uncomfortable, some people have a higher risk than others of becoming ill. These include:
- Adults aged over 75 years, babies and young children
- People with long-term health conditions, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes
- People living with overweight or obesity
- People taking certain medicines
- People who are socially isolated
- People who work outdoors or in hot and poorly ventilated areas
- People who are not accustomed to the heat, for example, overseas visitors
- Find ways to make your home or building cooler like light-coloured window coverings, awnings and shade cloth
- Have air conditioners serviced before the start of summer
- Ensure you have enough food, medicine and other supplies to avoid going out or if electricity supply is interrupted
- If you have a medical condition, ask your GP for advice on how to manage the heat
- Make a list of family, friends and neighbours you might want to check in on and ensure you have their current contact details
- Drink 2 to 3 litres of water a day at regular intervals, even if you do not feel thirsty. If you are on a limited fluid intake, check with your GP
- Limit intake of alcohol, soft drinks, sports drinks, tea or coffee
- Eat normally but try to eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit. Avoid heavy protein foods which raise body heat and increase fluid loss
Keep out of the heat
- If you can, avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11am to 3pm). Avoid strenuous activities and gardening
- Do not leave children, adults or animals in parked cars
- If you do go out, wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose, porous clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen
- Regularly rest in the shade and drink plenty of water
Stay as cool as possible
- Stay inside, in the coolest rooms in your home
- Block out the sun during the day and keep windows closed while the room is cooler than it is outside
- Use fans and air conditioners at home to keep cool, or spend time elsewhere in air-conditioning like a library, community centre, cinema or shopping centre
- Take frequent cool showers or baths and splash yourself several times a day with cold water
- Open windows after the sun/heat has gone down to allow for air circulation
- Make sure to stay cool while you sleep. Just because the heat has gone down doesn’t mean it isn’t still hot
Keep food safe in hot weather
- Put food back in the fridge after using it
- Don’t eat food left out of the fridge for 2+ hours
- Put leftovers in the fridge after the food has cooled
- Eat leftovers within two to three days
- Read more about food safety
Being sun smart
If you have to go outside into the heat, follow a few recommendations from the Cancer Council NSW:
- Learn to understand the UV index (when the UV index is 3 or above we need to protect the skin from sun damage)
- Wear protective clothing (clothing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect your skin)
- Apply sunscreen (choose a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen which is at least SPF 30)
- Wear a hat (wear a broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire-style hat for the best protection)
- Seek shade
- Wear sunglasses (protect your eyes properly with close-fitting wrap-around sunglasses)
Before a heatwave
- Assess which care recipients are at risk – who has limited capacity to keep cool; or which areas of the facility are prone to being hot
- Ensure entry/exit points can be monitored
- Ensure cooling systems in the home are adequate and working effectively
- Ensure alternative forms of fluid, such as jelly, ice-cream or fruit juice blocks are available
During a heatwave
- Ensure the temperature in care recipients’ rooms are comfortable, keeping curtains and blinds closed to reduce excess heat
- Monitor entry/exit points to avoid the unsupervised departure of care recipients during extreme heat events
- Be aware care recipients may be at particular risk following high overnight temperatures
- Ensure small amounts of fluids are readily available, rather than large amounts of fluids less frequently
- Avoid serving caffeinated or alcoholic beverages
- Provide care recipients with frequent small meals
- Help care recipients to keep skin covered when exposed to direct sunlight and to wear loose fitting clothing
- Avoid taking care recipients outside between 11am and 3pm
- Offer tepid showers or sponging
- Look for signs of heat stress, such as nausea or changes in appearance including red, pale or severely dry skin
- Ask for a clinical assessment if care recipient shows any signs of deterioration
Our pets are part of the family, and they feel the heat as much as us. The most common summer risks for pets are: overheating; sunburn; dehydration; stroke. Follow some simple steps to ensure they are safe and comfortable during hot weather.
- Provide plenty of water and shade
- Know the signs of overheating:
- Heavy panting
- Dry or bright red gums
- Thick drool
- Wobbly legs
- Never leave your pet in the car (it can take less than 10 minutes to develop heat stroke in dogs and cats inside a hot vehicle)
- Apply sunscreen (pets get sunburns too, especially those with short or light hair coats; apply pet sunscreen only)
- Don’t shave your pet (a pet’s coat is naturally designed to keep it cool during the summer and warm in the winter; trim but never shave)
- Mind your walking hours (don’t walk your pet in the heat of the day; consider early morning and late evening)
- Keep your dog’s paws cool (try to keep your pet’s paws off concrete, bitumen and other hot surfaces)
- Keep parasites off (In summer, fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other parasites are everywhere)
Find more information on preparing for a heatwave and learn how heatwaves can impact chronic conditions and medications.
Download Your health matters in a disaster flyer, five simple steps to help prepare you if a disaster occurs.