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The blackouts during Australia’s heatwave didn’t happen by accident

 
Heatwave in Australia

Parts of Melbourne were left without power as temperatures reach over 40 degrees Celsius in Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Craig Sillitoe/Getty Images

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The blackouts during Australia’s heatwave didn’t happen by accident” was written by Alexander White, for theguardian.com on Friday 17th January 2014 08.35 UTC

Australia is experiencing the most extreme heatwave since, well, the last one in 2013 and 2009.

While the sunburned country is used to hot weather, our infrastructure was not built to cope with several days of above 40°C temperatures. Now Victoria has now seen 4 consecutive days above 41°C, breaking records that have existed since 1855.

In 2009, the heatwave preceded Black Saturday, one of the most devastating bushfires in recent times. The human cost of the 2009 heatwave was more than 374 deaths, in addition to the 173 people who died in the fires.

While there were heatwaves across most of Australia for the past fortnight, the heatwave this week finally hit the south-eastern seaboard, and Melbourne where I live.

In nearby South Australia, the state capital Adelaide became the hottest city on earth, with temperatures in Roseworthy exceeding 46°C. (That’s over 114.8°F if you don’t follow Celsius.)

Bushfires are raging across south-east Australia, with over 100 blazes burning in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. There are more than 60 burning in Victoria.

Under these conditions, we saw train and tram tracks buckle. Melbourne ground to a halt, when the public transport providers, Metro and Yarra Trams advised commuters to leave work early to avoid massive delays and service cancellations.

It became so hot that the Australian Open tennis competition had play stopped after players collapsed and hallucinated cartoon characters.

Climate change is causing heatwaves in Australia to become more frequent, last longer and to be hotter, according to a Climate Council report:

“As greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, more heat is trapped in the lower atmosphere,” the report states. “This increases the likelihood that hot weather will occur and that heatwaves will become longer and more intense.

These heatwaves aren’t just inconvenient for tennis fans or commuters. They’re deadly.

Emergency services, including paramedics and fire-fighters have been mobilised in large numbers to respond to the increase in heat-related injuries. Heart attacks surged 300% during the heatwave and authorities expect an increase of 50% in mortalities caused by the extreme heat, mainly the elderly, infirm and children.

 

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