Sydney braces for catastrophic record-breaking heatwave
In Australia, New South Wales is bracing for a record heatwave that is set to strain hospitals, bring "catastrophic" fire threats to some areas and could cause blackouts, as electricity demand soars to record levels.
Sydney hospitals face an influx of heat-affected presentations in emergency departments as the city heads into a three-day period with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius.
Central Sydney can expect a top of 38C on Friday with western suburbs likely to roast in 44C.
NSW Police has activated its Heatwave Action Plan, and health authorities are warning people to take precautions to protect themselves.
The number of heat-related emergencies had already risen at hospitals across the state during recent heatwaves, NSW Health said. Young men in particular were seeking medical help more often than normal, the department said.
More than 1100 people presented to Westmead Hospital's emergency department with possible heat-related conditions in December and January as the city baked in what's likely to be its hottest summer.
Emergency staff saw a spike in potentially heat-related conditions including fainting and syncope - low blood pressure that causes fainting - during heatwave periods.
Most of the state's coast will endure a severe heatwave for the three days from Friday, with parts of the north-east facing extreme conditions, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Nationally, debate over Australia's energy security was ignited by outages during a heatwave on Wednesday which cut electricity to 44,000 South Australian households.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) worked to avoid a repeat in the state on Thursday and also issued alerts calling for additional generating capacity for NSW on Friday and Saturday.
Don Harwin, Minister for Energy, called on the public to help ease the strain: "The NSW government is doing everything we can to ensure a power outage is avoided but we encourage the community to reduce their energy use where possible".
As of late on Thursday, AEMO was forecasting NSW electricity demand to reach as high as 14,700 megawatts by Friday afternoon, beating the record demand of 14,600 MW set in February 2011.
"It's going to be a big day," Allen O'Neil, an independent wholesale market analyst, said. The longer the heat lasts, "people are going to give up on any notion of trying to save on their energy bills", and will ramp up their air-conditioners, he said.
Saturday will likely be hotter still, with 39C for the city and 45C in western suburbs, the bureau said. Stronger sea breezes are now expected to limit Sydney's maximum on Sunday to 30C, but western parts of the city should swelter again in 40C-plus heat.
The state's fire crews are unlikely to see much relief as the bushfire threat builds across the state over the coming three days.
Most of the state will face very high fire dangers on Friday, with total fire bans in three southern NSW regions. As winds and temperatures pick up, fire risks will rise further on Saturday, Shane Fitzsimmons, Rural Fire Service Commissioner, said.
"On Sunday, winds will continue to increase and if the forecast eventuates, we're likely to see catastrophic fire danger develop in some areas, including the Hunter," Fitzsimmons said, adding that Sydney's threat level is likely to be at least severe if not extreme.
NRL club doctors, meanwhile, have said they will cancel matches this weekend if they deem the baking heat is unsafe for players for the opening round of junior representative competitions and NRL trials.
The NSWRL has moved some of its matches to start as early as 7.45am, while Canterbury and Penrith's twilight NRL trial at Belmore has been delayed an hour to avoid the hottest part of the day.
NSW Police warned the public it was an offence to leave children, pets or the elderly in unattended vehicles, which could have deadly consequences.
NSW Health advised people to avoid drinking alcohol and hot or sugary drinks, close windows and use curtains or blinds to keep the sun out, wear a hat and sunscreen when outside.
People who did not have air conditioning are advised to spend time in air-conditioned places like shopping centres, a library or cinema.
Transport for New South Wales is also encouraging commuters to avoid travelling during the hottest parts of the day, carry water with you and if you feel unwell, don't board the train, bus, light rail or ferry.
- Sydney Morning Herald