‘High risk’ thunderstorm asthma warning for Victoria’s south-west; high pollen counts in Melbourne

Victoria's south-west region is facing a high risk of thunderstorm asthma with Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warning residents to stay indoors on Saturday afternoon.

"The combination of forecast high grass pollen levels and an unexpected thunderstorm with strong winds means that there is a chance that a large number of people may develop asthma symptoms over a short period of time," Professor Sutton said in a warning issued just after 1pm.

According to the Melbourne Pollen Count, much of the south-west, as well as Geelong, is expected to hit "extreme" levels of pollen in the air. Much of Victoria, including Melbourne, was predicted to have "high" pollen counts on Saturday.

"Health and emergency services are monitoring the situation closely and are ready to respond," Professor Sutton said.

"People with asthma or hay fever, or who experience wheezing, breathlessness, a feeling of tightness in the chest or a persistent cough, should have their reliever medication with them at all times today; and avoid the wind gusts before the storm, by going inside and closing your windows and doors."

The south-west warning region includes Ararat, Hamilton, Warrnambool and Colac, as well as the Great Ocean Road holiday towns of Port Campbell and Apollo Bay.

The Wimmera, East Gippsland, central and north-east regions of Victoria are at moderate risk of thunderstorm asthma conditions on Saturday afternoon.

The VicEmergency app has recommended that residents in the south-west review their asthma plans, as "people may experience asthma symptoms or difficulty breathing due to the combination of thunderstorm activity and high grass pollen levels".

The Bureau of Meteorology's senior forecaster Michael Efron said damaging winds were due across Victoria on Saturday afternoon, with gusts of 98 km/h recorded at Mount William in the Grampians on Saturday and 89 km/h at Warrnambool.

"We’ve got a cold front entering the west of the state at the moment, and just ahead of that we've got very strong and gusty northerly winds," he said.

"We are also expecting damaging winds behind that front, when the winds turns to the west, we could still see some gusts around 90 to 100 km/h in that [south-west] region.

"Combined with some thunderstorm activity, that does lead to that elevated risk of thunderstorm asthma."

Mr Efron said there had also been dust storms reported in Victoria's north-west, with visibility down to just 2 kilometres in some places near Mildura and Swan Hill.

Damaging winds will potentially reach Melbourne on Saturday evening, with more wild weather and potentially snow on the way for Victoria early next week.

If you have asthma or hay fever, you should review the asthma first aid steps. Call Nurse on Call on 1300 60 60 24 or see your local doctor if you require medical advice.

Call triple zero (000) immediately if someone is not breathing, if their asthma suddenly becomes worse or is not improving, or if the person is having an asthma attack and a reliever puffer is not available.

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