The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted an El Niño this summer: what you need to know

How to prepare for extreme weather.
We share tips and resources to help you beat the heat and stay cool this summer, along with important information on bushfire danger and how you can stay safe.

On 19 September, the Bureau of Meteorology formally announced an El Niño event for Australia during the 2023/2024 summer. This means that parts of Australia will likely experience warmer and drier conditions with minimal rainfall, increasing the risk of heatwaves and fire danger.

The health and wellbeing of our students and staff is paramount. In the lead up to and during summer, we'll follow the forecasting guidelines of the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) to ensure our community stays safe during extreme weather. We have emergency responses in place in the case of severe heat, poor air quality and bushfire events.

We will proactively communicate with you when there is a change to campus access and activities due to weather-related conditions, and what you need to do to stay safe.

If you need help

Visit the NSW Health website to learn the signs of heat-related illness and when you might need to seek medical help.

If you develop symptoms related to extremely poor air quality or severe heat and are concerned about your health, please call the 24-hour HealthDirect helpline on 1800 022 222 or in an emergency call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Our student wellbeing team offers a range of confidential and free health, wellbeing, and personal support, and is available 24/7.

There are a number of precautions you can take at home, on campus, or while travelling to protect yourself from extreme weather. 

Beat the heat

An El Niño increases the risk of unusually hot weather and heatwaves. Warmer weather can affect everyone; however, some people are at greater risk than others. 

Our Central Operations Services team has reviewed the available air-conditioning systems across our campuses, and where the best indoor locations on campus are for offering respite from the high temperatures outdoors. 

Teaching and exam spaces have been prioritised to ensure minimal disruption if you’re studying over the summer, and when you return in Semester 1, 2024. If you require adjustments, please visit the special consideration webpage for more information.

University libraries will be closed during the shutdown period, 23 December 2023 to 7 January 2024. For opening times outside of the shutdown period at each library, please check the Library website.

Air-conditioned study spaces on our campuses that are open 24/7 are:

  • Abercrombie learning hub
  • Brennan MacCallum learning hub
  • Carslaw learning hub East
  • PNR learning hub
  • Camden access lab

Proper hydration helps to regulate your body temperature and is crucial for keeping yourself healthy and avoiding heat-related illness during a heatwave.

  • Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  • Avoid alcoholic or sugary drinks as these can dehydrate you.
  • If you’re travelling outdoors, make sure you always carry water with you.

During hot weather, it’s important to keep cool to prevent yourself from becoming unwell.

  • Avoid being outdoors and use air-conditioning or electric fans at home to keep yourself cool.
  • Along with air-conditioning, other energy-efficient cooling measures you can take include natural ventilation and shading, by closing curtains and blinds in rooms that get a lot of sun, and opening windows back up again once it cools off to allow for airflow.
  • If you don’t have air-conditioning or fans at home, familiarise yourself with public locations in your local area that you can spend time in if it gets too hot. Typically shopping centres, cinemas and libraries are well air-conditioned spaces that are open to the public during the day.
  • Placing cool packs or crushed ice in a damp towel over your neck or shoulders, having cold showers, and wetting your skin with cool mist from a spray bottle are other ways to help you be more comfortable when it’s hot.

Preparing early can help minimise the impact of hot weather on your health and wellbeing.

  • Plan with family, friends, and neighbours to keep in contact during hot weather in case you find yourself becoming unwell.
  • Speak to your doctor if you have health conditions that may make you more susceptible to warmer weather.
  • If travelling is necessary, make sure you plan your route ahead of time so you know where you can access water, shade, and air-conditioned buildings if necessary. 

Episode 1 of The Solutionists, our University podcast with Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott, features a conversation with Professor Ollie Jay on how to cool your body in extreme heat.

Professor Ollie Jay and the Heat and Health Research Incubator at the University of Sydney are also part of BBC’s #TheClimateandUs series – see how our researchers are uncovering simple habits to beat the heat.

Understand fire danger

With a hot and dry summer predicted, it’s important you know how to prepare for bushfire season. The NSW Rural Fire Service has many resources online to help you understand bushfires, know your risk, and how to prepare in case of an emergency.

Close-up of grass bushfire

It's important to plan and prepare for bushfire season, even if you live in the city.

The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council has resources online to help get your mob bushfire ready.

You can also download the Hazards Near Me NSW app for current information and alerts about local emergencies provided by emergency services.

Be air aware

Poor air quality can be harmful to our health. In the event of bushfires and hazard-reduction burning, the resulting smoke affects the quality of the air.

Bushfire smoke can travel quite far, so even when the fire is not in your immediate area, your wellbeing may be impacted and you may experience eye irritation, a sore through or a cough.

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from bushfire smoke during times when there is poor air quality.

Consider your general health and know if you are at higher risk from bushfire smoke due to pre-existing health conditions, like asthma. Always follow you doctor’s advice and keep any medications close at hand. 

To view the latest information on air quality in the Greater Sydney Metropolitan region, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment provide hourly updates along with a daily air quality forecast at 4 pm each day.

You can also visit Air Quality NSW, a new dedicated air quality website from the government with real-time air quality data and information.

If air quality is extremely poor, avoid outdoor physical activity and stay indoors where possible.

When indoors, close windows and doors and avoid sources of air pollution like candles and incense until the air quality is better.

View the NSW Health activity guide for recommended actions when experiencing poor air quality.

If you feel that the air in your home is uncomfortable, consider going to place with cleaner air if it is safe to do so, such as an air-conditioned shopping centre or library. 

Please note that smoke from bushfires can also set off our building fire alarms on campus. It’s extremely important that all fire alarms are treated as real emergencies and evacuation procedures are adhered to.

Horizon shot of suburban landscape shrouded with orange haze

Keep track of air quality and take precautions as required.

Are you experiencing climate anxiety?

El Niño is part of a natural climate cycle that affects global weather systems and occurs on average every three to five years, however a warming climate does exacerbate its associated conditions. Climate anxiety is distress related to worries about our changing climate.

Read commentary on the BoM website from CSIRO experts explaining what we know about the strength, behaviour, and significance of this El Niño, along with what it means for the climate and the world more broadly.

NSW Health has tips and resources available to manage your mental health during bushfire season if you’re experiencing anxiety or feelings of not coping.

20 November 2023

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