Victoria has introduced a world-leading thunderstorm asthma detection system that will provide a three-day advance warning of potentially deadly conditions, following an event that caused the deaths of nine people and thousands to be hospitalised.
Thunderstorm asthma occurs when grass pollen is swept into the clouds as the storm forms and water in the clouds causes the pollen grains to burst open, creating smaller allergen particles that can be breathed deeply into the lungs.
Of the thousands of people affected by the severe thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne on 21 and 22 November 2016, up to 40% had never been diagnosed with asthma.
The new warning system combines weather data from the Bureau of Meteorology with pollen data collected by Deakin and Melbourne universities to predict the likelihood that any given thunderstorm will become a thunderstorm asthma event.
It will then trigger public warnings that will be run through the State Emergency Management Centre, which also manages bushfires, severe storms and other natural disasters.
The warnings will be distributed on the VicEmergency app and ranked as green for low risk, orange for moderate risk and red for high risk. They will also be used to help hospitals and Ambulance Victoria direct resources and build in a surge capacity to deal with an influx of cases.
Only a small proportion of thunderstorms cause epidemic thunderstorm asthma.
“The great challenge with thunderstorm asthma and epidemic thunderstorm asthma in particular was its scale, its severity and the fact that we did not have a prediction system in place that would have enabled us to understand potentially what was coming and what the impact might be,” the health minister, Jill Hennessy, said at the State Emergency Management Centre on Sunday.
“This monitoring system that we are launching and showing you today coincides with the start of the pollen system.
“We need people to take this seriously. This is probably the most developed…