Bunbury Mail

Tips to beat the heatwaves this summer in your local area

Kate Miranda, NSW State Director at Australian Red Cross gives a welcome speech for the launch Help Nation EmergencyRedi™ workshop. Photo supplied.
Kate Miranda, NSW State Director at Australian Red Cross gives a welcome speech for the launch Help Nation EmergencyRedi™ workshop. Photo supplied.
Tips to beat the heatwaves this summer in your local area
Tips to beat the heatwaves this summer in your local area

For Australians, long daylight hours and hot weather are part and parcel of the summer season.

However, heatwaves are becoming an increasingly formidable threat as climate change pushes temperatures to unprecedented heights.

2023 was named the country's hottest year on record, and these scorching temperatures are only set to rise.

Heatwaves now claim more lives than any other natural disaster in Australia. This makes preventative measures vital in keeping you and your loved ones from harm.

Here are some essential tips to help you understand these extreme weather conditions and beat the summer heatwave.

Understanding heatwaves and their impact

Heatwaves describe three consecutive days or more of abnormally hot weather conditions. During this period, the local area's maximum and minimum temperatures are unusually high.

Such extreme and prolonged weather conditions pose a deadly risk to humans and the environment alike.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, more Australians have fallen victim to heatwaves more than any other natural disaster. This includes bushfires, floods, storms, and tropical cyclones.

Climate change is the primary culprit behind the increasing frequency and severity of these heatwaves.

This happens when fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas are burned at extreme rates, releasing carbon dioxide and methane. These greenhouse gases trap the sun's heat in our atmosphere and cause temperatures to rise worldwide.

As a result, Australians are seeing record-breaking heatwaves across the country. The Bureau of Meteorology reports that the nation's average temperature rose by almost one degree Celsius in 2023.

Additionally, the mean annual maximum temperatures exceeded the average for all states and the Northern Territory.

Prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures can trigger several potentially life-threatening health issues.

This includes:

  • Heat stroke.
  • Heat exhaustion.
  • Heat cramps.
  • Heat rash.
  • Strokes or cardiac arrest.
  • Worsening of preexisting medical conditions.

Heatwaves pose a significant health risk to everyone.

However, babies and young children, pregnant women, outdoor workers, people with chronic illnesses, and the homeless are at the most risk of developing heat-related health problems.

Elderly residents are also particularly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions since many cannot regulate their body heat as well as they used to. This negative impact is compounded for those with existing health issues.

Older individuals may also be socially isolated, which becomes dangerous if they cannot access help in time.

If you know loved ones or someone in the community who is vulnerable to the heat, check in with them before and during a heatwave. A quick call, message, or knock on their door can help ensure their safety and well-being.

The escalating frequency and intensity of heatwaves around Australia is highly concerning for public health, the environment, and the economy. Proactive measures must be taken on an individual and community level.

This will help protect each other from harm and minimise damage from extreme weather conditions.

Community support and resources

There are various resources and community support channels available to help you cope with extreme heatwaves this summer.

These are provided by local health services, community centres, support groups, and more.

In particular, community resources, such as NRMA Insurance's educational initiatives, can safely guide Australians through the hot season.

Help Nation is an example of a community education program developed in collaboration with NRMA Insurance, Australian Red Cross, and Lifeline.

This nationwide initiative aims to help Australians understand and prepare for risks in their local area, including heatwaves. Help Nation is also useful to check whether your insurance covers your health, property, and vehicles for extreme weather events.

Awareness makes a significant difference in keeping your loved ones and your community safe.

This will help you prepare for heatwaves well in advance and minimise the harm of a potentially catastrophic event.

Staying hydrated and cool

Once the mercury rises, staying hydrated and cool is key to preventing heat-related illness.

Keep your body cool during a heatwave with the following:

  • Drink water regularly even if you don't feel thirsty; this prevents dehydration.
  • Aim to drink a small glass of cool water (200ml) every 15-20 minutes.
  • Avoid hot, sugary, or alcoholic drinks (including tea and coffee) which are dehydrating.
  • Keep oral rehydration salt packets on hand.
  • Stay indoors and out of the sun whenever possible.
  • Minimise physical activity.
  • Wear loose clothing in light colours; preferably natural materials such as organic cotton.
  • Take cool showers or baths throughout the day.
  • Wet your skin with a water spray bottle or with a cool, damp washcloth.
  • Place cool packs or bags of crushed ice in a damp towel around your neck and shoulders.

If you are unsure whether you are drinking enough water, check the colour of your urine. This can indicate how hydrated you are.

Pale, odourless, and plentiful urine is ideal as this is a sign of good hydration.

Remember - small but frequent amounts of water during your day are more effective at preventing dehydration than large, infrequent drinks. Choose cool water over cold water; the latter can cause stomach cramps.

Additionally, maintaining a cool environment is just as important in withstanding extreme heat conditions. Make sure to:

  • Close curtains and blinds to keep the heat out.
  • Turn on air conditioning or electric fans if available.
  • Spend time in the coolest place of your home.
  • Open your windows in the evening when temperatures cool down.
  • Avoid using stoves or ovens whenever possible.

Planning daily activities smartly

When a heatwave strikes, planning your daily activities in a smart, heat-safe way will help to protect you and your loved ones from harm.

Here are some tips for scheduling your day during a heatwave:

  • Reschedule outdoor activities for another day.
  • Avoid or postpone physical activity wherever possible.
  • Arrange the most physically strenuous tasks for early morning or late evening when the weather is cooler.
  • If your home is too hot, go to a cool location nearby, such as shopping centres or libraries.
  • Apply sunscreen and bring a bottle of water if you go outside.
  • Seek shade whenever you are outdoors.

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, cramps, and rash.

It is important to recognise these symptoms, as early awareness can help to prevent worst-case scenarios.

Look out for signs of heat-related illnesses, including:

  • Heat exhaustion: Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fainting, weakness, thirst, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, decreased urine output, irritability, headaches, and pale skin.
  • Heat stroke: Fainting, confusion, slurred speech, muscle twitching or seizures, rapid breathing, abnormally high body temperature, profuse sweating or hot, dry skin, a strong and quick pulse, and agitation.
  • Heat cramps: Painful muscle cramps and spasms due to excessive sweating.
  • Heat rash: Itchy rashes with small blisters or bumps, often around the neck, groin, armpits, inner elbow, and under breasts.

Seek medical attention from a health professional if these symptoms persist. If you are concerned that it is life-threatening, call Triple 000 for emergency assistance.

Creating a heatwave-ready home

Preparing your home to withstand heatwaves will go a long way to protect both your loved ones and property from extreme weather conditions.

Get your home heatwave-ready and make sure to:

  • Check that your air conditioning, fans, fridges, and freezers are working properly.
  • Clean or replace air conditioning filters to ensure proper ventilation.
  • Install blinds, curtains, or shutters to block out heat.
  • Prepare a cool refuge space in your home using shades, fans, and air conditioning.
  • Invest in energy-efficient insulation for your ceiling and walls wherever possible.
  • Avoid setting up workspaces in westerly-facing rooms that receive the most afternoon sunlight.

As rising temperatures sweep across the country, Australians should brace for more intense and frequent heatwaves with every passing year.

Smart planning, good hydration, cool homes, and community resources are invaluable for staying safe when temperatures soar.

Beat the heat with these proactive tips to ensure the safety of yourself, your loved ones, and your local community this Aussie summer.