Do you concider a heat wave a natural disaster worth preparing for?
Some of our readers may be in a region less prone to heat waves but for many of us who live in areas with seasonal weather changes summer is usually well welcomed as we get a chance to say goodbye to the bitter cold and dampness that often accompanies winter. But when summer is here and the daylight hours grow longer with the growing warmth we at times face hotter than normal temperatures and even heat waves.
Heat waves. Here in America they can come at any time during the summer months and they bring nothing but grief, despair and often death for the unprepared. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes… combine the death totals from all other natural disaster and more Americans die from heat waves than all others together.
What exactly is a heat wave? Well there is no specific temperature that constitutes when a heat wave starts. It is dependent on what ever your region considers normal for that time of year. A 50 degree day in January in Wisconsin could be considered a heat wave. A great rule of thumb however is outlined by the World Meteorological Organization:
When the daily maximum temperature of more than five consecutive days exceeds the average maximum temperature by 5 Celsius degrees or 9 Fahrenheit degrees (the normal period calculated from 1961–1990).
Heat waves are brought on by a number of different patterns and combinations such as:
- Turbulent winds move hot air above tropical seas inland
- Hotter air is directed towards areas that are already too hot
- No cloud cover or rain i an already high pressure system
- Little air movement
- Lack of green spaces for overnight cooling in highly popullated urban areas (concrete Jungle)
- A mixture of high heat and humidity together. This is also known as the Heat Index (HI) or if you reside in Canada the Humidex.
When referring to HI a great example of what the “air temperature feels like” is as follows: When the temperature is 100 °F with very high humidity, the heat index can be about 110 °F. Meaning the temperatures feel closer to 110 °F to the body. below is an interesting chart covering HI figures. Keep in mind these temperature measurements were taken in the shade and not the sun. As always take extreme care in the sun.
|Heat Index Temperature||Effects (shade values)|
|27–32 °C / 80–90 °F||Caution — fatigue is possible with prolonged exposure and activity. Continuing activity could result in heat cramps|
|32–41 °C / 90–105 °F||Extreme caution — heat cramps, and heat exhaustion are possible. Continuing activity could result in heat stroke|
|41–54 °C / 105–130 °F||Danger — heat cramps, and heat exhaustion are likely; heat stroke is probable with continued activity|
|over 54 °C / 130°F||Extreme danger — heat stroke is imminent|
(Chart information courtesy Wikipedia)
There really is only one thing to worry about in a heatwave. The heat. However with great heat waves so many times the power grids are put to the test and then fail producing rolling blackouts. Why? Because when we need to cut back and give the power grids a break people instead and usually in record numbers crank up their air conditioners and strain the grid(s). Summer blackouts in return cause panic and grief often as the ability to power ones air conditioner goes along with other utilizes we take for granted. Couple the loss of power with the heat and the sad reality is that most are simply not prepared. And then the body count rises. Do you own a backup generator? If you answered no then why not? You can view some here.
Here is a chart of the top ten deadliest heat waves and their body counts. Also courtesy of Wikipedia.
|1.||70,000||2003 European heat wave||Europe||2003|
|2.||56,000||2010 Russian heat wave||Russia||2010|
|3.||5,000–10,000||1988 United States heat wave||United States||1988|
|4.||1,700–5,000||1980 United States heat wave||United States||1980|
|5.||1,718||2010 Japanese heat wave||Japan||2010|
|6.||1,500||2003 Southern India heat wave||India||2003|
|7.||946||1955 Los Angeles heat wave||United States||1955|
|8.||891||1972 New York City heat wave||United States||1972|
|9.||739||1995 Chicago heat wave||United States||1995|
|10.||475||1900 Argentina heat wave||Argentina||1900|
Prolonged heat exposure leads to many health problems mild to severe. Muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, fainting, dehydration and heat stroke to name a few. Your heart and other internal organs face more strain and stress to boot as your body works harder to moderate your temperature. Heat stroke is the most severe and it is when the body’s core temperature rises from 98.6°F to 104°F or above. Anything over 103 is considered potentially deadly and during a heat wave is what often kills so many. As your body heat increases (with extremely high temperatures) your body races to release the same heat through sweating or other methods of external cooling.
A few signs of heat stroke are:
-Hot, red and dry skin
Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone else is experiencing a heat stroke or showing symptoms. Keep the person cool with water, offer him or her something to drink and prvoide shade from the direct sunlight.
Here are some excellent tips to beat the heat!
- Have the ability to cook food with out electricity.If you need to (and still have power) then avoid heating up the kitchen.
- Give up the caffeine and alcohol. Cold beer and caffeine actually suck the moisture right out of your body.
- Stay hydrated. Drink ice water, cold juice and tea with out caffeine. Have it within reach at all times. Dont wait to you are thirsty. Hydrate proactively.
- Change you sleep schedule. Start your day earlier and do your chores while the heat is still bearable. Just in case you have to be a sloth in extreme heat later on.
- Block out the heat. Light canceling shades or even blankets over the windows. Sunlight equates to heat.
- Keep the lights off. They emit energy and heat. If you can see you are fine right? If the power hasn’t went out yet then you are also doing your part in conserving power for everyone else. Good job.
- Wear loose fitting clothes. No underwear or socks. Think light material and even light colors. A ball cap is never a bad idea. When in direct sunlight you do not want bare skin exposed to the sun.
- As mentioned avoid using heat producing appliances. Dish wash by hand. Its a heat wave right? Tie up a line and dry your clothes outside.
- Try to sloth out. Don’t go anywhere unless you have to. If you must, do it early in the morning if possible.
- Do more than just drink water. Cool down by taking a shower or bath. Stick your feet in a bucket of ice water. Wrap up in ice soaked wraps, towels or bandanas drenched in water.
- Eat food with high water content. Many fruits and veggies such as cucumbers, grapes, watermelon and many others contain 90% or higher water content.
- Keep your car cool. Keep your windows cracked and if possible park in the shade or garage. Invest in a sunshade or window visor.
- Check on friends and neighbors and have others to the same for you.
- Never leave children or pets in the cars.
- Get downstairs. Heat rises and upper stories are warmer.A basement can be a cool retreat as well as it maintains a constant temperature according the the earth.
- If the power is not our or you are a backup power source, use box fans strategically around your house to draw heat from your home and cooler air into it.
- Always be able to recognize the signs of heat stroke and exhaustion. Know how to treat them
I know a lot of this seems like common sense (history repeats) but hopefully it helps someone. Even one person…
Image via Flickr