Preliminary Analysis Shows January Heat-Related Deaths in Australia Roughly Equal To Bushfire Deaths
A Monash University analysis of the first of two heat waves which struck Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania indicates that more than 200 people were killed by heat in three days, including approximately one hundred of Melbourne’s citizens.
Professor Neville Nichols, who researches climate variability, impacts, and extremes at the School of Geography and Environmental Science, analyzed death and funeral notices placed on the Monday and Tuesday following the three hottest days of the first heat wave—28-30 January—and found a 45% increase in mortality compared to notices for the previous and following week.
Ambulance Victoria operations manager Paul Holman also reported a doubling of help requests from 800 to 1,600 per day, many of which were exacerbated by power failures in many parts of Melbourne. “Normally we have quite a high resuscitation rate” said Holman, “but a lot of people collapsed and were found dead.”
While a formal analysis of mortality rates is likely to take months to execute, the actual increase may be higher than Nichols’ figures. Early data from Victoria’s State Coroner Office indicates that the number of deaths reported to the Office were 2.5 times the average during both heat waves.
Professor Nichols co-authored a research paper last year which found that the death rate of persons 65 years of age or older increased 15% to 17% when the average daily temperature rose above 30 ºC (86 ºF). The paper also proposed a simple heat alert system for Melbourne, based on predicted minimum and maximum temperatures.