The excess heat factor as a metric for heat-related fatalities: Defining heatwave risk categories

Thomas Loridan*, Lucinda Coates, Risk Frontiers, Daniel Argüeso, Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Heatwaves represent Australia's most significant natural disaster in terms of mortality. A unanimous definition of what constitutes a heatwave does not currently exist. However, recent work from the Bureau of Meteorology (Nairn & Fawcett 2013) has provided a metric designed to summarise their intensity. This metric, called the Excess Heat Factor, is being increasingly adopted by the research community as it is well-suited to characterise heatwave hazards. Yet the link between the Excess Heat Factor and the potential societal or economic impacts heatwaves can have is still not well understood. Using the PerilAUS archive of heat-related fatalities in Australia, this paper proposes to develop a classification of heatwave events in terms of their risk potential for human loss of life. This paper also quantifies the likely death toll from populations exposed to each of these categories. The category scheme is used to analyse the risk gradient of the three most lethal events in south-east Australia since 1900. The scheme helps communicate about heatwave fatality risk in Australia and provides some insight into the location of the populations under greatest threat. This study also catalogued 466 events in south-east Australia using the Excess Heat Factor and the newly developed heatwave categories. Using principal component analysis to identify the key modes of variability, a synthetic catastrophic heatwave scenario is generated and analysed for projected fatalities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-37
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian Journal of Emergency Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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