Cope in extreme heat

It’s hot. Like really hot. Like hell hot. If you thought global warming was a hoax, just ask the people baking in over 50 degrees Celsius heat.

Given, not all the heat is a result of global warming. Some of the heat comes from natural seasonal weather patterns. 

However, even accounting for natural weather, daily record high temperatures have been rising for the past decade, especially in the Continental United States. Heatwaves have become more common too.

So, just how bad is it this summer? Here’s a small selection of some of the record-breaking temperatures around the world:

While these temperatures seem insanely high now, global warming may push the records higher if nothing’s done to curb carbon and other greenhouse gases emissions. We’ll look at how these extreme hot weather events happen and how to cope in a heatwave.


What is a Heatwave?

what to do during a heatwave

Simply put, a heatwave is a period of unusually high temperatures and humidity relative to expected weather conditions for an area. It can last for a period of two or more days.

To qualify as a heatwave, temperatures must be outside historical averages for the area.

June 2021 goes down in history as the record hottest ever month in the U.S.


What Causes Heatwaves?

Heatwaves typically occur when high pressure develops over an area, especially in summer. As heat reflects and radiates off the ground, the high pressure locks it in further, making it hotter.

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Is Climate Change Contributing to Current Unusually Hot Weather?

Heatwaves are, historically, relatively rare events.

In fact, according to one climate scientist on Twitter, the odds of experiencing a heatwave like what has been experienced in June/July in Pacific NW 200 years ago would have been 1 in 150,000 years!

At just 1.2C global warming, the odds rise to 1 in 1000 years. At just 2C warming, the odds increase to 1 in 10 years.

A heatwave is now 30 times more likely to occur than during the pre-industrial revolution. That’s because of all the greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere.

As more CO2 gets trapped in the atmosphere, it traps more heat further worsening any heatwave effects. You can call it the “vicious carbon cycle”.

It’s also worth noting that just a 1 degree Celsius rise in global warming is causing an outsize effect on the frequency and severity of heat waves. We can only imagine the extraordinary impact further rise in global temperatures will cause if we fail to act on climate change now.


Who’s Most Vulnerable in a Heatwave?

cope in a heatwave - vulnerable people

Back in Summer 2003, heatwaves claimed more than 70,000 lives in Europe. Among the most affected were older people, especially those 75 and above.

The Pacific Northwest is still counting the dead from the recent heatwave.

Like in most extreme weather events, the marginalized often feel the most impact. The most vulnerable during heatwaves include:

  • Those living alone or in care homes
  • Boomers, especially those over 75 years
  • Babies and the very young who still haven’t fully developed natural cooling mechanisms
  • People with alcohol and other drug addictions
  • Low-income households who may not afford air conditioning
  • Bed-bound individuals and those with Alzheimer’s disease
  • The homeless
  • People who spend a lot of time outside/work outside, e.g., construction workers
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How to Cope in Extremely Hot Weather

We’ll divide this section into two:

  1. What to do at the community and national level
  2. What you can do individually


Learning to live with the heat

Unless something drastic happens in addressing climate change, heat waves and other extreme weather events will form part of our day-to-day existence.


Second, there should be more programs to subsidize air conditioning for low-income households.

Social programs ought to expand to cover more people, e.g., the homeless. Public “cooling spaces/centers” can be set up to cater to the homeless and other marginalized communities.

Cities must also seriously rethink urban planning to include more green spaces to combat concrete jungle heat.

Other ideas include:

  • Planting more trees for shade and the cool air they provide around them
  • Installing greener roofs and pavements that reduce reflected heat
  • Pushing for more energy efficiency to promote electricity grid resilience during heatwaves


Cope in a heatwave (Individual level)

learning to live with the heat

  • Keep curtains and blinds closed, especially in rooms facing the sun.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking more water (even when you don’t feel thirsty. Also, limit your alcohol intake.
  • Don’t leave infants, young children, or pets in closed, parked vehicles
  • Try and avoid the sun between the peak hours of 11 am to 3 pm
  • Apply sunscreen, wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses whenever you walk outside. Also, walk in the shade.
  • Limit exercise during the hottest periods of the day
  • Always take some water with you, especially when traveling
  • Take more cool showers and baths to reduce the heat
  • Opt for loose and lightweight clothing with light-colored materials
  • Check on your neighbors and anyone else in the most vulnerable group
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you experience heat-related illness symptoms.
  • Keep up to date with the latest news and safety updates.


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