Australia Reeling Under Severe Heat Wave, Normal Life Breaks Down

by Gopalan on  January 29, 2009 at 9:27 AM Environmental Health
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 Australia Reeling Under Severe Heat Wave, Normal Life Breaks Down
Normal life has been thrown off gear in Australia as the country reels under intense heat wave.

The mercury reached 114F (45.6C) in Adelaide on Wednesday, the hottest temperature the city has experienced in 70 years and just shy of its all-time record of 115F.

While Australians are used to hot weather during the summer months, the temperature in the southern states rarely climbs above zoom across the southern parts, including New South Wales,  Victoria and South Australia.

The ongoing heatwave in Victoria is the region's worst since 1908, and has raised fears of more heat-related deaths and the prospect of raging wildfires fuelled by hot winds and dry vegetation left by years of drought. A total fire ban is in place across most of both states.

Rising temperatures have already claimed two victims in Melbourne - a 75-year-old man who collapsed while walking just 500 yards to his car and a 24-year-old who was waiting for a tram.

The unusually hot conditions have been caused by a high pressure system over the Tasman Sea that is pushing warm and dry northerly winds over southeastern Australia.

Health authorities are urging extreme care amid the heat wave, ABC News reported Thursday.

Victoria's chief health officer, John Carney, says the elderly and children are most at risk of heat exhaustion.

"Make sure you get them into a cool place, give them plenty of water, cool their skin down," he said.

"If you don't get hydrated you feel faint, you feel dizzy, you feel nauseous."

Power and transport networks across Victoria and South Australia are struggling under the pressure of the continuing heat wave.

The sweltering conditions are being exacerbated by blackouts in about 50 Adelaide suburbs and South Australian towns.

About 100,000 properties have been affected across Victoria.

There has also been a meltdown with the public transport systems.

Repairs are continuing to Adelaide's buckled train lines and the city's trams will only run during the peak hour.

In Melbourne, more than 200 trains could not run yesterday and more than 50 have been cancelled so far today.

The furnace-like conditions in the city caused disrupted the prestigious the Australian Open which is in its final stages at the Rod Laver Arena.

Serena Williams's women's singles quarter-final with Svetlana Kuznetsova was halted for 45 minutes as organisers enacted their "extreme heat policy" and closed the arena's roof. Doubles matches on the smallest of the main stadiums were also moved to a covered court.

Williams said the conditions were unbearable. "I was in like an out-of-body experience. I kept trying to tell myself that it's not hot, you know... But it got hotter."

On Tuesday, the defending men's champion Novak Djokovic blamed the heat for his early withdrawal from a match against Andy Roddick. Djokovic said that the "extreme" temperatures inside the arena needed to be addressed for the health of players and fans.

But the weather in Melbourne was positively cool compared to the small town of Keith in southern New South Wales, which recorded 117F on Wednesday, the highest temperature in the region.

Meantime the federal government has announced a multi-million dollar study on the impact of climate change on health. Researchers believe that a warmer climate is likely to have a profound impact on the well-being of Australians, including a higher incidence of mosquito-borne illnesses, heat exposure and mental illness.

Health authorities in northern Queensland are currently trying to contain an outbreak of potentially fatal dengue fever, which has so far affected about 200 people.

Professor Tony McMichael from the Australian National University says warmer weather attributed to climate change could prove to be catastrophic to health. "There are simple direct effects like the impact of increased frequency and severity of heat waves on rates of death; particularly in older persons," the professor said. "Of course with increased climatic variability, more extreme events, we're going to see also more injury and death and post-traumatic stress from things like cyclones and extreme bushfires."

The very young and the old are considered most susceptible to exposure to extreme heat, which can cause heart attacks. Researchers also worry that worsening drought conditions across Australia's arid interior could trigger more mental illness in the hard-pressed farming community.

This week, a U.S. study has shown that the damage caused by a warming atmosphere cannot be reversed even if carbon dioxide emissions, which are widely blamed for climate change, are completely stopped. The report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that changes in surface temperature, rainfall and sea level will persist for more than a thousand years.

Source: Medindia

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