Welcome to the Future: Heat Islands and Ice Boxes

The Place to be in the Middle of a Heat Wave – image by Renato Laky (pixabay)

Heat waves are not uncommon in Australia, but over the last week or so our attention has been captured by the extreme heatwave occurring across Europe. For the first time ever, temperatures soared over 40°C in the UK. Of course, for many Australians, hitting 40° is not unusual at all. Growing up in Adelaide, I remember heatwaves of 4 or 5 days of consecutive temperatures in the 40s. So our houses are built for it. Insulation and air conditioning are pretty much standard in many homes, but that is not the case in the UK. Climate scientist Andrew King grew up in the UK, and while he too remembers the heat waves of his childhood, back in the early 2000s, any day over 30° was considered hot, so 40° is a real shocker. Quite honestly, whenever I think about the UK, I wouldn’t be thinking about 40° heatwaves either. Instead, I would be thinking of a wet, cold and dreary place, where 3 weeks without rain means it’s a drought and people go swimming at temperatures at which we’re still wearing a coat. As King notes in his recent article published on The Conversation, less than 5% of homes in the UK have air-conditioning. They are built to keep the cold out and the heat in. Not the other way round.

Europe is not the only place to see extreme heat waves. Earlier this year the temperature soared to 50.7°C in Onslow, WA. While this is still a rare event, even for Australia, records show that we have been seeing an increase in those kinds of temperature over the last 3-4 decades. Even Melbourne is predicted to see 50° not too far into the future. At this rate, some towns and cities may well become unliveable in the future, which makes action on dealing with climate change even more urgent.

Image by Kurt Bouda – Pixabay

Here on the other side of the world, in sunny Queensland, we have been dealing with the opposite problem – a colder than usual winter. Queensland is frequently promoted as “Beautiful one day. Perfect the next.” Tourists come from far and wide expecting beautiful sunny weather, perfect blue skies and warm balmy seas. It is a little known fact that, yes, Queensland has winter too. It may not be as cold as other places can be. And we may not be known for crisp, white snowfields and ice covered lakes, but here in Toowoomba, on the top of the Dividing Range, winter mornings can be very chilly. This winter we seem to be having far more chilly mornings and bitterly cold days than usual. We even made the headlines recently for being the coldest place in Australia. All over Australia we seem to be having a much colder winter than usual. Almost every day there is a news article about how to keep warm, the records that are being broken and the mess that our energy system is in.

I know there are some people who really love winter, but I am not one of them. I can appreciate the beauty of those snowy scenes found on Christmas cards, but I certainly don’t want to be out in that cold, wet stuff. I abhor the chilly mornings that can plunge below 0°C. I despise the freezing, lazy wind that drives right through your bones because it can’t be bothered to go around. And I just can’t stand feeling cold all the time. Winter is the worst time of the year and I can’t wait until it is over. We have just passed half way through winter 2022 and I am already over it. In fact I was over it before it even began. We got our first burst of cold weather in May – May! June 1 had not even arrived and I was ready to abolish winter and move straight to spring. 

It is also a fact that many women feel the cold way more than men – it’s just the way our bodies are. It’s very difficult to function when every part of your body is cold. My fingers don’t want to type. My brain doesn’t want to work because the only thing it is thinking about is how cold my toes are. There are parts of the house I don’t even want to go into because they are too cold. And you can just forget about going outside.  

 When we first moved to our place almost three years ago we named it The Last Stop, but now I have renamed it The Ice Box. While the houses in the UK may not be built for heat waves, our houses in Australia, especially in Queensland, are not designed for winter. Here in Queensland we have become known for a type of house that is called, quite unimaginatively, the Queenslander. Essentially they are a timber home, raised above ground level, often surrounded by verandahs and designed for Queensland’s hot summers. They also tend to be uninsulated and very leaky. The cold air sneaks in the gaps in the walls, between the windows and up through the floor boards. Not so great for Toowoomba’s cold winters. Quite simply – they are ice boxes.

A Typical Queenslander, Mackay – courtesy of Mackey Regional Council Libraries

While our house is not technically a Queenslander, it is wooden and raised off the ground. The cold air sneaks through every little crevice. Some mornings I swear it would be warmer in the fridge. We try to keep the living area warm during the day, and we have been investing in anything that can provide a buffer from the cold air but just walk up the hallway and you can feel the icy air on your face. Fortunately there is a door halfway along our hallway so we can shut off one end of the house during the day. Just recently I read about a couple who named one room in their house “Antartica” because it was so cold. I am quite tempted to put a sign on the hallway door that says:

Welcome to Antartica. Enter at your own risk.

Since we are so often dressed in so many layers that we are in danger of being mistaken for penguins, it would be quite appropriate. I only hope that this colder than usual winter is not another glimpse of the future that awaits us. At least I can take comfort in the fact that winter does not last forever. Winters in Toowoomba might be cold, but they are usually short. And we do get days that can be, dare I say, almost nice. Still, we’re on the downhill run now.

Spring is coming. 

3 thoughts on “Welcome to the Future: Heat Islands and Ice Boxes

    • Yes, even though we supposedly have these extra layers of fat, our skin is thinner, and the extra fat actually prevents the heat from getting to the blood vessels, I think. I do agree, these heatwaves and cold freezes are quite worrying. What will things be like in 20 or 30 years? It’s no wonder our young generations feel despondent about the future.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. The world prognosis is a worry. It reminds me of the author Jasper Fforde’s dedication in the front of his most recent book “For my eldest great-grandchild. Sorry about the state of the planet. We knew what we had to do – we just didn’t. There was no excuse.” Jasper Fforde 2021.

    Liked by 1 person

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