“The warning they gave was [for] extremely uncomfortable weather,” University of KwaZulu-Natal agrometeorologist Michael Savage said.
Savage said when weather conditions were about 26.7 degrees Celsius, and the relative humidity about 40 percent, conditions were uncomfortable for humans.
He was testifying before a commission of inquiry probing the deaths of eight people who took part in a 4km run at the Harry Gwala Stadium in Pietermaritzburg in December.
This formed part of a fitness test for Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) job applicants. More than 34,000 people qualified to apply for 90 advertised RTI trainee posts. Of these, 15,600 applicants attended a fitness test on December 27 and a similar number on December 28.
Savage said text messages warning municipalities were sent out.
“The weather service issued a warning the day before. The warning would have gone to online and to public media. All municipalities are part of the sms warning system. When there is a warning one should take precautions.”
He said weather conditions on December 27 were adverse. People were advised to be cautious between 9.42am and 6.30pm. Extreme weather conditions were indicated from 1.10pm to 5pm. On December 28 there were only three hours of caution — from 12.04pm to 3pm. There was no extreme caution.
When the temperature goes above 26.7C a caution is issued. Extreme caution is at 32.2C and higher. These are measured with a relative humidity of 40 percent.
Savage said he was shocked that eight people died after participating in the fitness test. He wrote a letter to the Natal Witness newspaper, not blaming anyone, but warning that such incidents should never happen again.
“I still think that for any large event that happens at that time of the year, knowing that it’s summer and weather conditions are more humid than in winter, you know you can expect a hot day,” he said.
“There should have been water, shade, and medical services.”