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Warnings mount as heatwave bites and fog strikes Sydney

January 4, 2019 Headline News No Comments

As temperatures climb above 40C again in South Australia and Victoria – and Central Australia continues fiercely hot after nearing 50C in parts last week – authorities have warned tourists and visitors to Central Australian parks that unless they postpone their treks, they may die.

Three adults and a toddler suffered heatstroke last week after attempting a walk without enough water in the Central Australian bush in the middle of a 45C day.

As heat built up on Wednesday this week, low-lying fog caused major delays for hundreds of travellers at Sydney Airport as airlines struggled with the busiest flying day of the year.

Flights operated by Virgin and Jetstar were reported to be the worst hit, with long queues building up through the terminals and stretching onto the footpath outside.

Yesterday, the heat was on Victoria, with the Bureau of Metrology reminding residents of a total state-wide fire ban:

“Tomorrow Friday January 4 is going to be so hot and so windy that we will have a statewide Total Fire Ban and Fire Danger Ratings of EXTREME, SEVERE and VERY HIGH. If a fire starts and takes hold tomorrow it will be fast moving, uncontrollable and unpredictable.”

Northern Territory rangers have dealt with two separate incidents recently of hikers getting into trouble in the heat.

Three tourists from the Philippines, travelling with a three-year-old, suffered heat stress while walking in the middle of the day at Standley Chasm in the West McDonnell Ranges.

Separately, the ABC reported that a couple from Melbourne took a wrong turn at Simpsons Gap and ended up on a longer trail with only a trickle (600ml) of water between them.

Parks and Wildlife’s Kristen Hay warned visitors to Central Australian parks “to consider postponing their walks or to walk very early in the morning when it’s cooler.

“Even if you are an experienced walker you must take precautions when visiting Territory parks,” she said.

“Walking in hot weather can result in heat exhaustion, which may progress to a potentially fatal heat stroke.”

Australian history is sprinkled with explorers perishing in hot, arid conditions. The deaths continue. In the first two weeks of November 2018, the tragic deaths of six travellers in remote parts of Australia had experts warning that the dangers of outback travel could rise in coming years.

Heatwaves in Australia are nothing new. Over a century ago, an extraordinary heatwave between October 1895 to January 1896 killed 435 people, almost 90% of them in New South Wales.

Deaths also occurred in South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland. Bourke, in NSW, lost 1.6% of its entire population to the heat: temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius in the shade were already being recorded in October, mid-spring.

Tourism Australia has the following advice:

How can I protect myself against the Australian sun?

The Australian sun is very strong and can burn your skin in as little as 15 minutes, even on cloudy days. It is important to protect yourself from excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, and take extra care between 11am and 3pm when UV radiation levels are generally at their highest.

While travelling in Australia, be ‘sun smart’ and protect yourself from the sun by wearing clothes that cover as much of your skin as possible; applying a high-level water resistant sunscreen (SPF30+ or higher) regularly throughout the day; and wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Protect yourself from heat exhaustion by sitting in the shade and drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Is it safe to bushwalk or hike in the wilderness?

When planning a hike or bushwalk, consider the length and difficulty of the walk and check weather forecasts before setting off. If walking without a guide, tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. Wear protective footwear, a hat, sunscreen and insect repellent and pack wet weather clothing and equipment, a topographic map and plenty of water. When walking, stay on the track, behind safety barriers and away from cliff edges. Avoid walking alone; it is best to arrange a party of three or more, especially in remote areas.

Written by Peter Needham

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