Rapid response report

study of heatwave impacts on NSW Northern Rivers region 2017

Matalena Tofa, Andrew Gissing, J. Van Leeuwen, C. Smith

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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Abstract

This research was conducted for the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) by Risk Frontiers with the support of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC . The BoM aims to use the findings of this study and future surveys to inform the development of its heatwave service, warnings, and updates. The study delivers valuable knowledge on key issues of risk perception and how residents respond to heatwave warnings and cope with extreme heat.

During January and February 2017 there were three distinct periods of severe or extreme heat that affected eastern Australia. This study explores the impacts of the heatwaves in January, 2017 on residents in the northern rivers region of New South Wales (NSW). In this heatwave, daily maximum temperatures above 35°C were recorded in many sites, with temperatures in some parts of NSW and Queensland exceeding 40°C. A maximum temperature of 41.3°C was recorded in Casino and Grafton, and Grafton experienced seven days over 35°C between 10 and 20 January. The Heatwave Service at the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) provided forecasts and monitored conditions during this heatwave, and these forecasts were further disseminated by other agencies and organisations, as well as through the media. A telephone survey of 150 residents in northern NSW was conducted shortly after the heatwave to better understand the impacts of heatwaves, how heatwave warnings were used by residents in affected locations, what preparedness or protective actions were taken, and what further information and mediums residents would like to receive in future events. Key findings include that residents' main concerns about heatwaves are personal discomfort and effects on their health and wellbeing. The main coping strategies used are air-conditioning, fans, and keeping hydrated. Most residents received warning of the heatwave through traditional media (e.g., TV or radio), and 45% took actions to reduce the likely impact of the heat. Respondents who did not prepare for the heatwave explained that extreme heat is just a part of summer and that they adjust their activities accordingly during the heatwave. Suggested ways to support better preparedness and reduce the likelihood or severity of impacts tended to focus on making air-conditioning more affordable and accessible, particularly for vulnerable groups, as well as ensuring that cool refuges (e.g., swimming pools) are open and affordable during heatwaves. These suggestions indicate an emphasis on coping strategies during extreme heat events. However, some respondents also identified long term measures to reduce risks: for instance, guidelines and incentives for house design, solar panels and insulation, and the government 'taking action on' climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMelbourne
PublisherBushfire and Natural Hazards CRC
Commissioning bodyBureau of Meteorology
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

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