Extreme heat and heatwaves

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As the climate changes, heatwaves are projected to become more frequent and intense with longer periods of hotter days and nights.

Severe and extreme heatwaves have claimed more lives than any other natural hazard in Australia. By the 2050s, if the current rate of global warming continues, Victoria could experience around double the number of very hot days each year compared with the 1986–2005 average (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning 2019).

We all want to be part of a resilient community in the face of a changing climate. This webpage provides information and resources to help individuals prepare and adapt to heatwave events.

Download your Heatwave Preparation Checklist.(PDF, 99KB)

What is a heatwave?

A heatwave is when the maximum and the minimum temperature is unusually hot over a three-day period, for the location that we are looking at. That is considered in relation to the local climate, but also into the recent past.

You can understand more about heatwave warnings at About The Heatwave Service from the Bureau of Metereology website.

When it gets HOT, think…

Healthy Temperature

  • Plan your day and stay out of the sun between 10am and 4pm.
  • Drink lots of cool water.
  • Keep your home cool by using fans, air conditioning or bathe in cool water.
  • Wear lightweight SunSmart clothing.
  • Go to a cool or shady place.

Overheating – know the signs of overheating in yourself and others.

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Thirst
  • Cramps

Taking Action

  • Tell someone how you are feeling.
  • Stop what you are doing.
  • Try to get cool by drinking small sips of cool (not cold) water, sit in the shade or in a cool building and removing hot clothing.
  • Seek medical advice.

How to prepare for a heatwave

Have a heatwave preparation checklist.(PDF, 99KB)

heatwave preparation checklist helps prepare yourself and your home. Talk to your relatives, neighbours and friends about staying connected during a heatwave in case you or they need help.

When creating a heatwave plan consider:

  • who to call if you need help
  • your GP’s advice if you have any medical conditions
  • seeking medical advice from your GP or nearest hospital if you feel unwell
  • where to find your emergency kit in case of a power failure
  • keeping an eye on the weather forecast
  • being prepared for bushfires.

Understand your health

Your health can be affected during a heatwave, especially if you have a medical condition or are more at risk of the effects of heat.

Before a heatwave, you should:

  • get advice from your GP about whether your medical condition will be affected by extreme heat
  • talk to your GP about how much water you should drink in hot weather, especially if they normally limit your fluids
  • know who to call and make a list of people and telephone numbers.

Know your medications

Many prescribed medications can make the risk of heat-related illness worse.

If you are on regular medications, talk to your General Practitioner (GP) about how your medications could affect your health in the heat.

It is important to remember that medications can become less effective or occasionally toxic when overheated. Most medications need to be stored at a temperature below 25 degrees Celsius. Talk to your GP if you are unsure about correct storage temperatures.

Prepare your home

Preparing your home for a heatwave helps keep you and your loved ones safe.

To prepare your home for a heatwave:

  • check fridges, freezers, fans and air conditioners work properly
  • set air conditioning to cool
  • stock up on food for your household and pets, and medicines to last up to a week so you do not have to go out in a heatwave
  • ensure you have enough drinking water
  • keep cool packs in the fridge or freezer to help you cool down
  • fill spray bottles with cool water to spray on your face and body
  • put together a small emergency kit in case of a power failure – this could include a torch, batteries, candles, matches, a battery-operated radio and a first aid kit
  • check your home can be ventilated with cross breezes without compromising security
  • install, update, or adapt curtains or blinds
  • choose curtains with pale linings in rooms that get a lot of sun to help reflect the heat
    • avoid dark reflective curtain linings and metal venetian blinds as they absorb heat and may make rooms hotter
    • shade your windows in the heat of the day especially windows that face west
  • consider external awnings or blinds, shutters, shade cloth or other material to prevent sun shining on the window
  • insulate your house to help it keep cool in summer. 

Keeping cool in the heat

Keeping cool and your temperature down is the priority to staying safe and healthy during heatwave events.

Remember when it gets hot:

  • stay out of the sun between 10am and 4pm
  • stay hydrated and drink lots of cool water
  • keep your home cool with air conditioning set to cool or fans
  • wear lightweight, sun-smart clothing
  • go to a cool or shady place.

Helping others when it gets hot

Remember to check on those at greater risk for heat illness, including:

  • older adults and children
  • people with medical conditions
  • people without air conditioning
  • people working outside.

Hot cars kill

  • Never leave kids, adults or pets in cars.
  • Even on a mild day, the temperature in a parked car can be 20-30 degrees hotter than outside.
  • Visit the Never Leave Kids in Cars page for more information on kids in hot cars.

Heat-related Illness

It is important your body temperature stays between 36.1 – 37.8˚C. If your body rises above this, you may develop signs of heat-related illness.

Heat-related illness occurs when the body absorbs too much heat. This may happen slowly over a day or two of very hot weather.

Act quickly to avoid serious - or even fatal - effects of fully developed heatstroke.

Signs of heatstroke

  • Rapid pulse or weak pulse
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Dry, swollen tongue, trouble speaking, slurred speech
  • Problems concentrating or coordinating movements
  • Aggressive or strange behaviour
  • Dizziness, confusion, seizures or loss of consciousness
  • Sudden rise in body temperature
  • Hot, dry and possibly red skin, possibly with no sweat
  • Headache, nausea or vomiting
  • Intense thirst

Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Signs of heat stress

  • Rising body temperature
  • Dry mouth and eyes
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Absence of tears when crying (children)

Take immediate action to cool down

  • Rest in a cool, shaded place.
  • Drink water or suck ice chips.
  • Have a cool shower or bath or apply cool wet towels to the body.
  • If symptoms persist after one hour, seek medical attention.

Stay informed

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) Heatwave Warning Service provides public heatwave warnings for severe or extreme heatwave conditions. These warnings are issued through the Bureau of Meteorology website and the Bureau's Weather App (BoM Weather App) and telephone service. 

Keep up to date with weather forecasts:

Further information

Victoria Department of Health - Extreme heat - community resources (health.vic.gov.au)

Bushfires and Public Health - Bushfires and public health

The Bureau of Meteorology - Heatwave Service for Australia

Climate Council - How do you take care of your pets during a heatwave?

RSPCA - How can I help wildlife during a heatwave?

Information on this page has been adapted from Hot weather health and safety - Queensland Government (www.qld.gov.au)