I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. ‘My Country’, Dorothea Mackeallar

Extreme weather and the impacts of climate change

Australia has always been a country of climate extremes - bushfires during the hot months, floods during the wet months; snow covered mountains and 40 plus degree sweltering deserts, we have it all!

The impacts of climate change over the years, extreme weather is becoming more dramatic. We are already experiencing longer dry seasons with more severe and longer lasting bushfires, more intense storms, less ice and snow cover, floods, and rising sea levels and temperatures.

Although most of us are able to stay safe and comfortable in our homes on a hot summer day or during a storm, some groups are working to develop better shelter systems for those who don’t have the same resources, or who are in more dangerously affected areas of Australia.

Protecting our homes and communities

Australian industrial design company MineARC has developed the first ‘StormSAFE cyclone shelter’ for miners who work in Port Hedland, Western Australia. This is an area prone to extreme wind and tropical cyclone conditions, with as many as 4-7 severe cyclones hitting the area per season. Each shelter has been designed to withstand winds of over 300km/hr and can contain sleeping, entertainment, kitchen and toilet facilities for up to 54 people!

Not only do we need to consider remote areas, but we need to prepare cities as well. Over the last couple of years, Western Sydney councils have had to set up temporary heat shelters during intense heat waves. Along with power outages across many suburbs, the dangerously high levels of heat claimed lives and impacted health.

By stocking churches and community centres with supplies and resources to combat the rising heat, councils were able to open the doors to members of the public who would have otherwise suffered. Particularly vulnerable people are those with pre-existing medical conditions, young children, and the elderly.

Person in emergency shelter

Stocking community centres with supplies and resources can combat the rising heat and councils are able to open the doors to members of the public.

Image: Aaron Doucett
Unsplash License

Although it may seem a simple solution, protecting our communities from heatwaves is just as important as protection from fire and flood, with WSROC president Barry Calvert stating that heat waves are responsible for more deaths than all other natural disasters.

Up until now in Australia, the focus has been primarily on weather-proofing our own homes in preparation for fires, floods and storms. Although this may work for many individual households, it is not always possible or efficient for individuals who may not have the same abilities and resources as everyone else.

We need to shift the focus to group focused planning, specific to the increasing weather threats due to climate changes, by checking on your neighbours and pooling shelter and supplies collectively, so as to benefit and protect our community as a whole.

Action: Check in on your local council’s website to see what disaster preparedness measures they suggest. Having an action plan for your household in the face of a heatwave, fire, severe storm or flood helps you to cope in the event.

Check out Mt Resilience, a virtual town, to explore ways a community can prepare itself for natural disasters.