• Tips on How to Stay Safe in a Heat Wave
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Tips on How to Stay Safe in a Heat Wave

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.

Why Early Heat Waves Are More Dangerous

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.

Is It Humid Where You Are?

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.

Take a Break from the City

‘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.

Tips to Beat the Heat

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:

heat wave reading

  • Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible.
  • Slow down. Restrict or eliminate strenuous activities until a cooler time of day.
  • Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device during an extreme heat event. Use fans to exhaust hot air from a room or to pull cool air into a room, but don’t use a fan to on yourself in a room hotter than 90°F/32°C. This will dehydrate you faster, endangering your health.
  • Avoid heavy foods, as easy-to-digest foods require less work from your body. Remember to use coolers and/or ice packs to keep food cool and do not leave food in the sun (Meat and dairy products spoil quickly in hot weather).
  • Drink plenty of (not too cold) water or non-alcoholic and decaffeinated fluids, even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • Check on a friend or neighbor and have someone check on you. Pay particular attention to the elderly in your neighborhood as they are especially susceptible to heat-related stress.
  • Don't use the stove or oven to cook — it will make you and your house hotter.
  • Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car. Temperatures inside cars rise to fatal levels rapidly due to hyperthermia, which can occur even on a mild day with temperatures in the 70s/20s.
    heat wave swimming
  • Dress in loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Leave the city for more rural or seaside areas, as these can be noticeably cooler away from the urban heat island effect.
  • Sweating means your body not only loses water, but sodium and potassium as well. Salty foods, sports drinks or electrolyte water can help to replenish these levels. Do not take salt tablets unless specified by a physician.
  • Minimize direct exposure to the sun. Sunburn reduces your body's ability to dissipate heat.
  • Take a cool bath or shower.
    heat wave doctor
  • Protect bare feet as well as the pads of pets and other animals, as pavement on streets, parking lots and sidewalks can become hot enough to burn skin.
  • Seek medical care immediately if your child has symptoms of heat-related stress.
  • Pay attention to local authorities and heed heat advisories and warnings.

Learn more about heat safety here:

Heat safety tips
Information about heat-related illnesses

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