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Triple Zero Calls Spike as Heatwave Takes its Toll

Dec 9, 2023

Western Sydney experienced a day of extreme heat, with temperatures soared to a scorching 43.5 degrees at Penrith, just shy of the forecasted 44-degree peak. The Hawkesbury region, accustomed to warm days, found its residents up and about early in the morning, embarking on shopping errands and exercising before the oppressive heat settled in. Some businesses didn’t open due to the conditions and sporting events were postponed or cancelled.

The mercury’s relentless ascent began with temperatures hitting 36.4 degrees at Richmond at 10:00 am. 

What followed was a day-long struggle against the elements. NSW Ambulance reported a significant surge in emergency calls, revealing a spike in Triple Zero calls by 2 pm—numbers far beyond the norm for a typical summer Saturday. At Richmond the temperature peaked at 43.2 degrees at 3.30pm. Some residents reported temperatures above 55 degrees in the sun in the afternoon. By comparison temperatures reached a peak of  26.7 degrees in Sydney.

“As of 2 pm Saturday, 9 December, NSW Ambulance received around 20% more Triple Zero calls compared to a typical Saturday during summer. By midnight tonight, it is anticipated NSW Ambulance will have received approximately 600 additional calls across the state due to the extreme heat,” a spokesperson for NSW Ambulance said. They did not identify which areas the calls came from.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable in the heat.

Chief Superintendent Mark Gibbs said;” The vulnerable people of the community are your elderly neighbours, elderly family, or even those that may not be used to being in an area with heat or you know they don’t have air-conditioning or any cooling at home,” he said.

A total fire ban remains in place. As at 4pm there were a total of 85 fires burning across the state, 38 of which are not contained. A southerly change is expected to hit at about 6pm tonight.

Emergency services are working to address the spike in incidents, ranging from heat-related illnesses to other health issues exacerbated by the relentless heatwave. The community is being urged to take precautions, stay hydrated, and avoid unnecessary outdoor activities during the peak of the heat.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a warning, indicating that the extreme heat is likely to persist in the coming days. Residents are advised to stay informed about the evolving weather conditions and to look out for one another.

Renowned heat expert Associate Professor Sebastian Pfautsch said that the consequences of people in Western Sydney living with this kind of heat were frightening.

He finds it astonishing that even simple solutions like transitioning away from black roofs and planting trees have been hindered due to political pressure. For example, Hawkesbury City Council has not mandated any tree canopy targets in the new urban developments at Glossodia, Pitt Town, Redbank and Vineyard, instead, these are “long term goals taking up to ten years.”

Experts say lack of cooling infrastructure, creates a perilous situation for residents.

He said that the costs to the economy will be significant because people can’t work under these condition, “It’s just too dangerous. We are knowingly steering ourselves into catastrophe, because there will be large, negative impacts on the population of Western Sydney. It’s a bad mix. For the individual it’s dangerous, simply dangerous,” he said. 

A recent study in the US estimated that high heat costs the country $100 billion each year in reduced productivity, a figure forecasted to double by 2030.  

In October, the Australian government released the Intergenerational Report which maps the country’s future for the next 40 years. It illustrates how much Australia has to lose, with a two degree increase in global temperatures expected to cause disruption to productivity in the agricultural and tourism sectors, particularly. Yet the federal government’s current target of 43 percent emissions reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 is not sufficient to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.  

“The Treasury estimates we are facing lost economic output to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. These estimates don’t even include health and mortality yet, which we know are among the biggest of climate-related costs. Our choice is clear: take urgent climate action or endure substantial economic consequences,” Climate Councillor and economist Nicki Hutley said. 


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