New heatwave warning system adopted across Australia, using bushfire-style emergency alerts

Bushfire-style emergency warnings will now be issued for heatwaves across Australia as authorities warn their dangers are potentially overlooked.

The new alert system is based on the Australian alert system and has three phases: ‘advice’, ‘watch and act’ and ’emergency’.

Announcing the change on Thursday, WA Health said the new alerts would be issued through the WA Emergency website and on ABC Radio, along with other broadcasters. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) will also continue to issue warnings.

WA Health said it would be a national approach.

Research has shown that heat waves are the deadliest natural hazard in Australia, apart from disease outbreaks.

Their frequency and intensity have increased worldwide in recent decades, a trend that is projected to continue under most future climate scenarios.

Fears of an underestimated “significant risk”

But BOM’s Brandley Santos said their dangers weren’t as well recognized as other dangers.

Heat waves involve a period of three or more days of abnormally hot and uncomfortable weather.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)

“It’s a significant danger,” he said.

“Maybe not the hazard people know best, like tropical cyclones, severe storms or bushfires. [But] people are affected by heat waves.”

Analysis of corona records, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, showed that 473 heat-related deaths were reported in Australia between 2000 and 2018.

He found 354 of them occurring during scorching conditions.

But other research suggests the number of reported heat-related deaths may grossly underestimate the true number, with up to 36,000 heat-related deaths between 2006 and 2017.

The Australian National University study assessed how often death certificates had “excessive natural heat” recorded as a contributing factor.

Another hot summer expected in WA

A heat wave is defined as a period of three or more days of abnormally hot and uncomfortable weather that is unusual for the location and could impact human health, infrastructure and services.

A two-lane boardwalk lined with trees on one side and a wall on the other, with blazing sunshine.
Last summer was the hottest on record for Perth and large parts of south and mid-west WA.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

They are often emitted when daytime maximum and nighttime minimum temperatures are abnormally high.

The current BOM outlook suggests that above average maximum and minimum temperatures are on their way to the majority of WA, the Northern Territory and Tasmania this summer.

A red and blue color coded map of Australia showing the summer temperature outlook across the country.
Much of Australia is expected to experience above average temperatures this summer.(Provided: Bureau of Meteorology)

It comes after Perth and large parts of south and mid-west WA experienced their hottest summer on record in 2021/22, marked by a record number of 40 degree days.

WA Chief Health Officer Andrew Robertson said he saw an increased number of presentations at WA hospitals during periods of extreme heat last summer.

“We certainly had an increase in cases over this period, so they place an increased demand on the hospital,” he said.

“So we encourage people to do the right thing and heed these warnings.”

He said heat waves pose increased health risks to vulnerable populations, including the elderly, pregnant women and very young children.

But he said fit and healthy people could also be affected.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows for volume.
Play the video.  Duration: 3 minutes 30 seconds

Menang Ngadju elder Carol Pettersen explains Birak, the first summer of the Noongar seasonal calendar in southern Western Australia.