Australia to set up public cooling rooms as worsening heatwaves predicted

Australia to set up public cooling rooms as worsening heatwaves predicted

11 November 2011

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Australia — Public cooling rooms could be set up across Australia to allow people to take refuge from the country’s worsening heatwaves under a proposal circulated in a new climate change report.

May: Balcony lightshow, Darwin, Northern Territory. When Mark Percival lived at Palmerston in the Northern Territory, inland of Darwin, he enjoyed photographing tropical thunderstorms from his second-floor balcony. Northern parts of the Territory experience two distinct seasons, the Dry (May to September), and the Wet (October to April the following year).The Wet is characterised by more thunderstorms and monsoon activity due to higher rainfall, temperature and humidity. A shift in the prevailing wind also directs more moisture into the Darwin region from warm oceans north of Australia. On average, Darwin experiences 20 days with thunder each December. Photo: Mark Percival

Severe heat waves kill more Australians each year than any other natural disaster, mainly via heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

But the heat waves are expected to get hotter and longer, according to the report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and government and meteorology experts.

The country’s heat-related death toll is set to more than double by 2050.

The report says Australia has done little to prepare for a new era of heatwaves and tends to focus on large-scale natural disasters such as bushfires and floods – even though such events often take fewer lives.

During the week of the 2009 Victorian bushfires, for instance, 173 people died in the fires and 374 people died due to extreme heat.
The report says the Government should consider a “national heat wave plan”, including cooling rooms to provide respite from 45-plus degree days.

The rooms – air-conditioned government or community halls – would be positioned in urban centres and accessible in cases of severe weather.

Other proposals include early warning systems and programs adopted by cities such as Shanghai and Chicago to increase vegetation and promote rooftop gardens.

The report says Australia will go from 10 extremely hot days a year to 25 in 2050 and the average number of heat-related deaths will rise from to more than 1000.

“The incidence of severe and extreme heat events in Australia has been considerable and is projected to increase,” it said. “The north-west is expected to warm more quickly than the rest of Australia, and inland areas will experience greater warming than coastal regions.”

The world’s longest heatwave was recorded in Australia, where Marble Bar in Western Australia-registered 160 consecutive days above 100°F (or 37.8°C) from 31 October 1923 to 7 April 1924.

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