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Preparing hospitals for dangerously hot days

Extreme weather is a part of life in Australia: bushfires, droughts, floods, cyclones, heatwaves. And every time an extreme weather event comes around, the health impacts are clear.

In Australia, we expect Summer to be hot. But there are hot days, and then there are hot days.

We’re talking about the kind of heat that you can’t get away from, that our homes aren’t built to deal with and that we aren’t ready to handle. This is the kind of hot weather that puts vulnerable people at real risk of harm.

“It’s Australians dying, and we can prevent that,” says James Goldie, a PhD student from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

James Goldie Edited Figure

Distributions of simulated summer heat-humidity near Brisbane in the GFDL-CM3 climate model in (yellow) the present, (red) a greenhouse gas scenario with some climate action, and (purple) a business-as-usual greenhouse gas scenario. (Dotted black) Observed summer heat-humidity at the Brisbane Airport weather station.

Mr Goldie, who uses the NCI supercomputer to do this important work, says:

“I’m trying to find relationships between hospital admissions and hot days, pulling statistics out of very messy data.

“All of the simulated weather data that I need is stored at NCI. With it, I can try to understand more about these periods of extreme heat.

“Hopefully, that means hospitals will be better prepared for this dangerous weather.”

Halfway between climate and health research, Mr Goldie’s study is connecting some vital dots and looking ahead at a future where extreme heat is more common, and more deadly.

The complexities of airflow, humidity and temperature make prediction a difficult business, but the impacts of extreme heat on our bodies is clear: if you can’t cool down quickly enough, overheating starts to impact your heart, lungs, kidneys and blood circulation.

Elderly and sick people are at the greatest risk, but the hotter it gets, the more people are likely to be affected.

If hospitals can be better prepared to deal with the effects of these dangerously hot days through computer modelling such as Mr Goldie’s research, more people are likely to survive.

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