There’s hot summer weather—and then there are heat waves. Much like other natural disasters, heat waves can be very dangerous. Get 10 tips for staying cool in extreme heat!
What Are Heat Waves?
A heat wave is a prolonged period of unusually high temperatures for a region. Interestingly, there is no universal definition in terms of “how high.”
To be considered a heat wave, the temperatures have to be outside the historical averages for a given area.
That said, we often think of a heat wave typically lasting two or more days—and generally 10 degrees or more above average.
Heat waves happen when there is trapped air that will feel like the inside of an oven! Usually, the culprit is a high-pressure system that forces air downward.
This force prevents air near the ground from rising. The sinking air acts like a cap. It traps warm ground air in place. Without rising air, there was no rain, and nothing to prevent the hot air from getting hotter.
Young children, those who are sick, and the elderly are most susceptible to heat-related illnesses. However, anyone can suffer from a heat-related illness if they over-exert themselves or simply don’t take extreme heat warnings seriously.
While extreme cold is also dangerous, heat waves become life-threatening more quickly if proper precautions are not taken. In recent years, excessive heat has caused more deaths than all other weather events, including floods. Of all natural disasters, heat holds the highest 10-year average of fatalities with 113.
How to Prepare for and Prevent Heat Wave Danger
- Properly install window air conditioners, sealing any cracks and insulating if necessary.
- Check A/C ducts for proper insulation and clean filters.
- Install awnings, blinds, or light-colored drapes and keep them closed to keep sunlight and heat out.
- Upgrade your windows and weather-strip doors to keep heat out and cool air in.
- Make sure your first aid kit is updated and get trained in first aid relief.
- Have a plan for wherever you (and your family members/pets) spend time during a heat wave—home, work, and school—and prepare for power outages. Discuss heat safety precautions with members of your household.
- Check the contents of your emergency disaster kit in case a power outage occurs.
- Be aware of weather forecasts and the upcoming temperature changes.
- It’s not just the high temperature. The heat index is the temperature the body feels when the effects of heat and humidity are combined. See our heat index chart.
- A backhome home generator is the safest and most reliable solution! Power outages are common during heatwaves because the need for A/C puts too much pressure on the power grids. A standby generator, however, automatically keeps the A/C running, the lights on, food and medicine from spoiling, and medical devices operating.
10 Tips for Surviving a Heat Wave While It’s Happening
- Never leave children or pets alone in hot vehicles—even for a second.
- Stay inside during the hottest part of the day (10 A.M to 4 P.M.) and limit time outside in the Sun. Avoid strenuous activity and postpone outdoor games and events.
- If A/C is not available, stay indoors on the lowest floor in a well-ventilated area with fans. Keep shades and blinds closed.
- Stay hydrated with plenty of water—even if you’re not thirsty. Don’t drink alcohol, sugary soda or drinks, or other caffeinated beverages, as they will only make dehydration worse.
- Eat small meals and eat more often.
- Use sunscreen and wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a hat made of breathable material.
- During heat waves, tune to a NOAA radio station and listen for weather updates from the National Weather Service (NWS).
- Visit air-conditioned public spaces such as malls, movie theaters, and libraries to keep cool.
- Check on family and friends who are more susceptible, especially if they may have lost A/C. Keep your pets indoors and make sure they have access to a cool space and plenty of water.
- If you feel overheated, cool off with wet washcloths, fans, and a cool sponge bath or shower.
Too hot at the house? Go to the library or a designated public shelter if your home loses power during periods of extreme heat.Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
We hope these tips are helpful during the next heat wave. Print out this list and place it with your First Aid Kit so you’re better prepared when a heat wave hits.