Emergency advice: heatwaves

Exposure to extreme temperatures for 3 days or more can have a serious impact on your health.


What to expect from a heatwave

A heatwave is a period of unusual and uncomfortable hot weather for 3 or more days in a row. Exposure to extreme heat can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke and sometimes death.

On days affected by extreme heat it is vital to stay cool and safe.

While heatwaves can affect the entire community, certain groups are particularly vulnerable including older people, babies, young children and people with health conditions.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts heatwave events and advises NSW Health.

NSW Health will issue warnings and advice through the media and to local councils affected by the potential heatwave.

Help reduce the risk to you, your family and friends from heatwave events

Be prepared

In rooms where you get a lot of sunlight consider curtains with pale linings to help reflect the heat. You could also put external blinds, shutters or some form of other shading on windows facing north and west. And insulate your house, not only will it stay cooler in summer but it will also keep warmer in winter.

Seek medical advice on how extreme heat may affect your medication or medical condition. Know who to call – put together an emergency contact list including doctor's details and family contacts. Include 000 (triple zero) for life-threatening emergencies.

Get your home ready:

  • Close your curtains, blinds and awnings at the start of the day to keep as much sun out of your home as possible.
  • Check your fridges, freezers, fans and air-conditioners to make sure they work properly.
  • Check your home can be properly ventilated without compromising security.
  • Stock up on food for your household and pets, water and medicines to last up to a week.
  • Consider buying cool packs to keep in the fridge or freezer to help you cool down if needed.

During a heatwave

If you don't have air conditioning at home, consider spending the day somewhere that does, like a library, cinema or shopping centre. If you do have an air-conditioner at home, make sure it has been serviced recently. Fans will also help you stay cool.

Remain hydrated – drink 2 to 3L of water each day, even if you don't feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and soft drinks as they can increase your risk of dehydration. If your doctor normally limits your fluids or you take fluid tablets, you may need to check how much you should drink during extremely hot weather.

Check on vulnerable family and friends at set times at least twice a day.

Stay alert for heatwave effects, such as heat stress and call for help immediately. Heat stress symptoms include extremely heavy sweating, headache, vomiting, confusion and swollen tongue. Other effects include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you think you may be affected by heat, seek medical advice from your doctor and in life-threatening situations call 000 (triple zero).

  • Stay out of the sun: take shelter. If you need to be in the sun, wear a shirt, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen but avoid strenuous activity. Sunburn will affect your body's ability to cope with the heat.
  • Dress light: lighter clothing helps your body stay cool. Light-coloured clothing reflects sunlight and heat.
  • Look after your pets: Make sure they have plenty of shade and enough cool water to last the entire day – putting ice cubes in their water bowl will help.
  • Never leave pets or people in parked vehicles.

Sports Medicine Australia provides advice on how to exercise safely in hot weather.

After a heatwave

  • Continue to check on family, friends and neighbours, particularly those who are most at risk.
  • Keep drinking water regularly, even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • Review your personal emergency plan and update it with what you learnt from the previous heatwave event.

Further information about heatwaves

The NSW SES website can help you develop:

The NSW Government's state heatwave plan details how emergency information is provided to agencies and service providers that support communities, particularly vulnerable members during heatwaves.

This information has been adapted from the ABC emergency website.