HeatWatch QLD: Extreme heat in the Sunshine State

by Mark Ogge, Bill Browne and Travis Hughes

The projected rise in extremely hot days as a result of global warming presents a serious risk to the health and wellbeing of the Queensland community.

There has already been a clear increase in numbers of these extreme heat days over recent decades, as demonstrated in our profiles on:

  • The Gold Coast;
  • Brisbane;
  • The Sunshine Coast;
  • Roma;
  • Gladstone;
  • Rockhampton;
  • Mackay;
  • The Whitsundays; and
  • Townsville.

Exposure to extreme heat can lead to serious illness and death. At temperatures above 35 degrees, the human body’s ability to cool itself reduces, which can lead to a cascading series of Heat Related Illnesses (HRI) and ultimately heatstroke that can cause organ failure and death. Heatwaves have caused more deaths in Australia since 1890 than cyclones, bushfires, floods, earthquakes and severe storms combined.2

In parts of Queensland, the extreme heat risk is exacerbated by high humidity. Combined with 70% humidity, conditions over 35 degrees are considered “dangerous” by government agencies such as the US Government National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Temperatures of 35 degrees combined with 80% humidity are considered “extremely dangerous”.

The workforce in Queensland is also particularly vulnerable to increasing extreme heat with significant shares of workers employed in industries that frequently require heavy outdoor labour including mining, construction and agriculture.

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