As Penrith residents continue to deal with a sweltering January, there’s warnings that it’ll only get hotter in the coming years.
Ecosystem Scientist Sebastian Pfautsch blames rapid urban growth for our growing heatwave conditions.
Temperatures have soared above 40 degrees in Penrith throughout January, often 12 degrees higher than the city, with more hot weather still to come.
It comes after the local area recorded a stunning top of 47.3 degrees last summer.
Dr Pfautsch said overdevelopment is only “locking ourselves in” and braces the community for what he predicts will be 50 degree days within the next three years.
“In Penrith, you’re basically sitting in a pan where air starts to move slower, being that the cooler effect from the sea breeze dies down even before Parramatta and another factor of course is less rainfall, which largely contributes to less evaporative cooling,” he said.
“On top of all of this is the rapid urban development, where we replace greenery with hard grey surfaces, all of these structures store heat much better and radiate heat much longer.
“Jordan Springs is a typical example of when things go wrong. You can look at a time series of aerial photography of how the area looked from 2005 to now, big houses with black roofs, lots of black streets, no backyards big enough for trees and any trees that line the streets will take years before they actually grow big enough.”
Dr Pfautsch also said the temperature we see on our typical weather apps is a misconception.
“The Bureau of Meteorology is only measuring air temperature, but that does not necessarily measure the thermal-comfort or the temperature that you experience,” he said.
“There are so many other factors that come into play such as wind speed, humidity, radiated heat from the surface you’re walking on and body heat.”
Last week, Dr Pfautsch measured the temperature of the ground in a local park at over 90 degrees – 62 degrees is how hot a person would feel if they were standing there.
As we enter into this ‘unknown temperature territory’ Dr Pfautsch fears for people’s health and said if developments don’t start thinking greener we could see an increase in heat related deaths.
“This warming is cumulative and it’s quite multilayered once you start unpacking it with what we are doing wrong, but also with what we can do to change it,” he said.
A graduate of Western Sydney University, Nicola Barton is a news journalist with the Western Weekender, primarily covering crime and politics.