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A simple heat alert system for Melbourne, Australia

Abstract

A simple heat alert system, based solely on predicted maximum and minimum daily temperatures, has been developed for the city of Melbourne in southeast Australia. The system is based upon a demonstration that, when mean daily temperature exceeds a threshold of 30°C (mean of today’s maximum temperature and tonight’s minimum temperature), the average daily mortality of people aged 65 years or more is about 15–17% greater than usual. Similar numbers of excess deaths also occur when daily minimum temperatures exceed 24°C (increases of 19–21% over expected death rate), so a heat alert system based solely on this widely available weather forecast variable is also feasible. No strong signal of excess heat-related deaths appears when the data are stratified using daily maximum temperatures. This may be because in Melbourne some days with very high maximum temperatures will be affected by the passage of cool changes and cold fronts in the afternoon, leading to a rapid drop in temperature (i.e., some days with high maximum temperatures will not continue to be hot throughout the day and into the evening). A single day with temperatures exceeding the thresholds noted above is sufficient to cause this increase in mortality, rather than requiring an extended heat wave. The increased daily mortality does not appear to represent a short-term advancement of mortality.

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Acknowledgements

The Victorian Department of Human Services initiated and provided some funding support for this study. We thank David Hogan, Julian Meagher and Marion Carey from the Department for their support and input.

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Correspondence to Neville Nicholls.

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Nicholls, N., Skinner, C., Loughnan, M. et al. A simple heat alert system for Melbourne, Australia. Int J Biometeorol 52, 375–384 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-007-0132-5

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Keywords

  • Australia
  • Heatwave
  • Human health
  • Mortality
  • Climate change