The science of beating heat waves and hot weather

Fighting a heat wave is like preparing for a fight with an invisible opponent. The stifling heat of these days is invisible, but it robs the air of its freshness, making each breath hard, ragged, and exhausting. If you go outside right now, you can definitely feel it. Fighting the heat is not only a physical battle, but also a battle of intelligence and endurance. This post is based on this video.

brown plant on brown soil during daytime

The harsh reality of heat waves

Heat waves can take lives. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to life-threatening conditions such as hyperthermia, in which the body absorbs more heat than it can handle. Thousands of people, livestock, and even pets can fall victim to this silent killer. Farms can suffer devastating crop damage. In cities, power outages caused by excessive air conditioner use consume more fuel, disrupting daily life.

Decoding the heat wave

The term “heat wave” does not have the same meaning around the world. A heat wave is basically a sustained period of unusually hot weather. However, the World Meteorological Organization defines a heat wave as a period of five or more consecutive days with daily high temperatures at least five degrees above the average high temperature. In countries with climates influenced by nearby bodies of water, such as New Zealand, the air can become very humid during heat waves, making it difficult to breathe.

Strategies for dealing with heat waves

Despite the harsh conditions, there are ways to ensure your safety during the heat wave. Here are a few things you can do to stay cool and survive.

1. hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Drink plenty of water, and add ice to your drinks if you have it. Filling a bucket with water and submerging your feet in it can help lower your body temperature. Alternatively, dampen a towel and place it over your head and shoulders. Taking a cold shower or bath can also help you stay cool. If you have a spray bottle, fill it with cold water and spray your body, especially if you’re going out. Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol, as they may rehydrate you, but they also encourage urination. It’s important to stay hydrated during a heat wave.

2. Create air circulation

Leave the door open and use a fan to circulate and move hot air outside. Protect your home from the harsh rays of the sun by closing blinds or curtains during the day. As the sun goes down and the air cools, open your windows to let the cool air in.

3. Find a cool place

Hot air rises, so it’s a good idea to move to the basement or first floor where the temperature is cooler.

4. Evacuate to an air-conditioned public building

If your home becomes unbearably hot, find a nearby public building with air conditioning and take shelter. Libraries, malls, and movie theaters can be refuges from the heat.

5. Avoid heat generation

Conserve electricity and reduce heat by turning off lights, avoiding using the oven or stove (eat cold foods like fresh fruit instead), and turning off computers and other non-essential appliances.

In the worst cases, heat waves can lead to heat stroke, heat rash, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion. Beating the heat isn’t just about building resilience, it’s about adopting the right, scientifically backed techniques to outlast and outmaneuver the heat’s relentless challenges.

Frequently asked questions

1. Why do heat waves cause power outages?

Heat waves cause power outages primarily because of increased demand for electricity, especially for cooling, which the power grid sometimes can’t handle.

2. Why is it humid during a heat wave?

In areas surrounded by bodies of water, such as New Zealand, heat can cause excessive evaporation, resulting in high humidity in the air.

3. Why should I avoid coffee during a heat wave?

Coffee and alcohol can speed up water loss from the body by stimulating urination. During a heat wave, it’s a good idea to keep as much water in your body as possible to prevent dehydration.

4. Are there any health risks that older adults should be especially aware of during a heat wave?

Older adults, especially those with underlying medical conditions, are at increased risk for heat exposure. High temperatures can worsen heart and respiratory conditions, and older adults may need to take extra precautions to stay hydrated and cool.

5. Should I turn off non-essential appliances during a heat wave?

Yes, we recommend it. This is because, in addition to saving electricity, many appliances generate heat, which can contribute to higher temperatures in your home.

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