Heat stress during the Black Saturday event in Melbourne, Australia

Stephanie J Jacobs, Timo Vihma, Alexandre B Pezza

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3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The Black Saturday bushfire event of February 7, 2009, devastated the state of Victoria, Australia, resulting in 173 deaths. On this day, the maximum temperature in Melbourne (state capital of Victoria, population 4 million people) exceeded 46 °C, there were wind gusts of over 80 km h−1 and the relative humidity dropped below 5 %. We investigated the severe meteorological conditions of Black Saturday and the risk of heat stress and dehydration for the residents of Melbourne. This was through the analysis of weather station data, air pollution data, the apparent temperature (AT) and the COMfort FormulA human energy budget model. A very strong pressure gradient caused hot and dry air to be advected to Melbourne from the desert interior of Australia creating the extreme weather conditions. The AT showed that on Black Saturday, heat stress conditions were present, though underrepresented due to assumptions in the AT formula. Further investigation into the human energy budget revealed that the conditions required a sweating rate of 1.4 kg h−1 to prevent heat accumulation into the body. If sweating stopped, hyperthermia could occur in 15 min. Sensitivity tests indicated that the dry air and strong winds on Black Saturday helped to release latent heat, but the required sweating rate was virtually unattainable for an average person and would result in intense dehydration. Air particulates were at dangerous concentrations in Melbourne on Black Saturday, further intensifying the stresses to the human body. In the future, we recommend that the AT is not used as a thermal comfort measure as it underestimates the physical stress people experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)759-770
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Biometeorology
Volume59
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Air pollution
  • Apparent temperature
  • Black Saturday
  • COMFA
  • Heat stress
  • Human energy budget
  • Thermal comfort

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