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Thursday, January 29, 2009

South Australia: from heavenly summer days to the living hell of a heatwave

A couple of weeks ago we were holed up writing in an apartment overlooking the sea at Glenelg beach, Adelaide, South Australia. While the days were warm and balmy, topping 30 degrees celcius, a little higher than the typical heavenly summer temperatures they get here, the evenings were deliciously cool. Cool enough to pop on a cardigan. We've been on the road in South Australia for a week or so now and it's a completely different story. We're making our way across the southern coast to Victoria and the Great Ocean Road, and it's been hot - scorching hot! And that's saying something coming from someone who lives in Dubai. It's so hot Australians are calling it a heatwave. The heatwave - and it's very definition (several days of continually high, above-average temperatures) - is being discussed endlessly by everybody it seems. These are record breaking temperatures. In the south here that means mid- to high-40s, but in some parts it's reached as high as 51. We listen to the radio a lot as we drive these days (we're bored with our music and podcasts; it's our third month on the road, after all) and the heatwave and ensuing chaos are all that's discussed: the affect upon health, cancellation of major sporting events, the threat of fires, total fire bans, the need to be 'fire ready', to put 'bushfire contingency plans' in place, train and tram cancellations and derailments (tracks are buckling), traffic light outrages, the accidental blackouts, and the planned power cuts. It's hell here. And in the midst of this chaos and suffering, Australia's 'power wholesaler', the National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMCO), which controls the country's electricity usage decided to impose further planned power cuts (um, 'load-shedding') to 'protect the security of the grid'. (Interestingly, their share price subsequently went up.). NEMMCO has been providing the radio station with lists of suburbs that will lose power for 30 minute intervals, so they people can prepare themselves. The problem is that these people are calling the station and sending SMS messages complaining that they've already been without electricity for 24 hours. They are irate. It's like living in a third world country, they say. Now we're bored with the radio too. Whenever we go to the bakery, tourist office, service station, or check into a motel, we're asked how we're coping with the heat. We live in Dubai, we tell them, but how are you? A few years ago Australians would ask "Dubai, where's that?" We'd need to qualify it by saying "the Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf, that tiny country above Saudi Arabia and below Afghanistan and Iran". But now they not only know Dubai, they have family who work there, friends who have just been there, or are planning a trip themselves. "It's this hot all the time?" they ask. "Yep, plus there's high humidity, up to 90%. Our glasses fog up every time we leave an air-conditioned building." "Well if we can handle this..." they say. How things have changed. This time I'm not talking about the weather.

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