Epidemic thunderstorm asthma forecasting
A new world-leading thunderstorm asthma monitoring, prediction and alert system is now up and running, giving Victorians an early warning of possible epidemic thunderstorm asthma events this grass pollen season.
Developed by the Department in partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology, the University of Melbourne, Deakin University and other research organisations, the forecasting system considers grass pollen forecasts, weather observations and data including wind changes, temperature, rainfall and grass coverage. It will then identify the risk of epidemic thunderstorm asthma and trigger warnings if required, using the following scale:
LOW risk – neither of the conditions necessary for an epidemic thunderstorm asthma event are expected and a thunderstorm asthma event is very unlikely.
MODERATE risk – one of the necessary conditions needed for an epidemic thunderstorm asthma event (high grass pollen or a particular type of thunderstorm) is predicted, but a thunderstorm asthma event is unlikely to occur. You should be prepared, but not alarmed.
Those at increased risk should:
HIGH risk – both the conditions necessary for an epidemic thunderstorm asthma event (high grass pollen and a particular type of thunderstorm) are forecast as likely to occur. There is a higher chance of a thunderstorm asthma and you should take the risk seriously and be prepared.
Those at increased risk should:
- avoid exposure to any storms that may emerge, especially the wind gusts that precede them
- go inside and close their doors and windows, and either turn air conditioners off or switch to recirculate
- have their reliever, ideally with a spacer, on hand throughout the day
- review their asthma action plan and
- review the four steps of asthma first aid (https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/videos/thunderstormasthma-firstaid)
The forecasting system will be active throughout the Victorian grass pollen season (1 October to 31 December 2017), providing three-day forecasts - the current day, the next day, and the day after.
Access the forecasts
Epidemic thunderstorm asthma forecasts will be publicly available throughout the Victorian grass pollen season (1 October to 31 December) on the VicEmergency website and app (download from the App Store for iOS devices or Google Play for Android devices).
During grass pollen season, people may notice an increase in asthma and hay fever. Grass pollen season also brings the chance of thunderstorm asthma, also called Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma (ETSA).
This is an uncommon phenomenon where a large number of people, many of whom may never have had an asthma diagnosis, experience asthma over a short period of time. For those affected, it can be sudden, serious and life threatening.
Thunderstorm asthma is thought to be triggered by a unique combination of high grass pollen counts and a certain type of thunderstorm. For people who have asthma or hay fever this can cause severe asthma symptoms, making it difficult to breathe. When a large number of people develop asthma symptoms over a short period of time, this is known as epidemic thunderstorm asthma.
People at increased risk of thunderstorm asthma include:
- people with asthma
- people with undiagnosed asthma (i.e. people who have asthma symptoms but have not yet been diagnosed with asthma)
- those who have had asthma in the past
- people with hay fever, particularly grass pollen allergies, who may or may not have asthma.
These epidemic thunderstorm asthma events are uncommon and don't happen every year, but when they do, they can happen during grass pollen season, which is normally from October through December in Victoria.
More information on thunderstorm asthma, including prevention and first aid, can be found on the Better Health Channel (https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/campaigns/thunderstorm-asthma)