Heat is the number one weather-related cause of death in the US and a leading hazard worldwide—more dangerous now than lightning, flooding and drought. In August 2003, Europe faced a catastrophic heat wave when two weeks of record-setting heat led to an estimated 70,000 deaths. No heat-wave in global history has produced more documented deaths.
This year, temperature records for the month of June have been broken in France and Poland, with countless other countries also feeling the heat. This is bad news for millions of Europeans, many of whom don’t have air conditioning at home and must rely on their cool offices, public spaces or the cooling centers or shade shelters that have been recently established. With the hottest part of the year still to come and global temperatures gradually rising every year, it’s more vital than ever to take the necessary precautions to keep you, your employees, your loved ones and pets safe.
Mortality rates can be significantly higher for early-season heat-waves for two reasons. First, our bodies haven’t had the chance yet to acclimate to the seasonal warmth. Second, many aren’t yet prepared to combat the heat—waiting for the heat to increase before buying things like window fans, air condition units, extra coolers to hold ice, extra water or even a plan for where to go escape the heat—the cinema, museums, libraries, malls or temporary shelters are all good options.
Humid air is literally thicker than dry air because of the added water vapor, and therefore takes longer to heat up but also longer to cool down. When a heat wave is accompanied by a certain level of humidity, overnight temperatures stay well above normal, making it even more difficult to find refuge from the heat. If there has been recent rain to dampen the soil, dew points can reach 80°F/27°C and higher. With high dew points and soaring air temperatures, heat index temperatures can climb well above 110°F/43°C.
‘Heat island’ or the ‘urban heat island effect’ is caused by concrete and asphalt (as well as other dark and dense features of the city) absorbing heat during the day and not having enough time at night to release it. In rural areas, it can be noticeably cooler as earth and vegetation absorbs less heat and more easily releases it once the sun sets. With a decreased amount of vegetation, cities also lose the shade and evaporative cooling effect of trees.
While everyone suffers in extreme heat, infants, children, the elderly and those who are ill are especially at risk, as the body must work extra hard to regulate its internal temperatures. Here are some tips to stay safe during a heat wave: