Heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent worldwide due to climate change and other factors.
Knowing how to keep you and your loved ones cool, healthy, and hydrated during a heat wave is crucial for your safety and survival.
Much like natural disasters, heat waves are dangerous. Identifying the signs and symptoms of illnesses like heat stroke and exhaustion is one step in preventing life-threatening consequences.
Preparing your indoor spaces, planning for days of scorching weather, and learning about heat-related symptoms are additional steps to take.
In this guide, we help you better plan and cope with a heat wave so that you can stay cool and safe during extreme heat.
What Is a Heat Wave?
A heat wave is an extended period of hot weather that lasts two or more days. The air becomes trapped in one area, making you feel like you’re inside an oven.
It’s considered a heat wave when the temperature falls outside the typical historical averages in the geographical location. For example, 86 degrees Fahrenheit 30°C in Las Vegas during spring is normal, but 86 degrees (30°C) in Toronto during spring would qualify as a heat wave.
These bouts of extremely high temperatures can occur with or without significant humidity and cover a large area, exposing everyone in the vicinity to hazardous temperatures. Heat waves pose many health risks, causing severe illnesses and deaths if prolonged.
What Causes Heat Waves To Occur?
Heat waves occur when the high pressure from the atmosphere pushes warm air down toward the earth.
This stationary air mass hovers over a region, trapping more hot air and forcing other weather systems to redirect their course. It produces a mass accumulation of heat and often high humidity, preventing rainfall or cool air from offering relief.
The causes of a heat wave are high pressure, high temperature, solar radiation, and trapped gases.
Here are some of the driving factors that create such extreme conditions:
- High-pressure results from water vapor or gaseous elements inside the atmosphere.
- Climate change resulting from a rise in environmental temperatures is the consequence of fossil fuel combustion, improper waste management, deforestation, and livestock agriculture. Such activities alter the air quality by emitting heat-trapping gases and impacting the natural flow of air currents.
- Wind and ocean currents may induce winds and wave power to move warm air into high-pressure zones, increasing the intensity.
Regardless of the cause, this high concentration of pressurized air makes it difficult for other weather systems to pass through. The high-pressure air inhibits winds and prevents clouds from entering.
Heat waves can last between a few days or several weeks. The longer high temperatures persist in a region, the hotter it becomes.
How to Prepare for a Heat Wave
Over 650 people in the US die every year from preventable heat illnesses. You can take several steps to prevent these illnesses, like heat stroke, from occurring.
Here’s what you can do:
The best protection to safeguard yourself from heat waves is to stay indoors and have the air-conditioner running. Portable and eco-friendly solutions like the EcoFlow Wave Portable Air Conditioner can help you stay cool.
You’ll want to ensure the unit is functioning before temperatures begin rising. Here’s how you can properly keep your AC in tip-top condition:
- Check for clogs: Use a stiff wire to remove clogs like accumulated condensation in your unit.
- Vacuum the grills: Your central AC has metal or plastic grills covering the air ducts. Make sure to vacuum them to get rid of any dust or debris.
- Replace the filters: Replacing or thoroughly cleaning the filters can reduce energy consumption by 15% and ensure better airflow.
Continuously running the AC can rack up a hefty utility bill. If you want to stay cool but minimize utility payments, consider charging your air conditioner with one of the DELTA solar generators. A fully charged DELTA solar generator can keep the Wave running between 3 to 12 hours off the grid. You can use solar panels to create your own clean, renewable energy.
Extreme temperatures often cause heat stroke, dehydration, and other illnesses. A heat wave can worsen existing medical conditions, increasing the risk of death. If you or a family member is vulnerable, you’ll want to take precautions against heat waves.
Consider the most common vulnerable people in your household:
- Young children and infants are less able to regulate their body temperature and rely on others to keep them hydrated and cool.
- Older adults are most likely to die from a heat wave since they have weaker cardiovascular and immune systems and a diminished capability to sweat.
- Outdoor workers may work an entire shift outside, exposing them to direct sun, high temperatures, and stifling air.
- People with pre-existing medical conditions like cardiovascular diseases and respiratory illnesses may have weaker immune systems that compromise them.
- Pregnant and nursing women are more prone to becoming dehydrated due to excessive sweating, vomiting, urination, and other side effects that come along with being pregnant.
Stock Up on Warm Weather Foods
We recommend eating a lot of vegetables and fruits during a heat wave. Foods like cucumbers, lettuce, and watermelon contain over 90% water, which helps you stay hydrated. Sandwiches are easy to prep from cold ingredients and store in your fridge.
It’s best to avoid high-protein foods like meat since they will increase the body’s heat production. Cooking and eating large meals will make you hotter as well. Eating smaller, simpler meals that only require the microwave to cook is better during a heat wave. Running your oven or using the stove can quickly increase temperatures in your home.
Have a Reliable Backup Power Source
Heat waves are likely to cause more power outages. That’s because the higher demand for air conditioning can overload electric lines and tax the energy systems resulting in power outages.
Everyone should have a reliable backup power source during natural disasters and extreme weather. We recommend using high storage and output capacity units like the EcoFlow DELTA Solar Generators. High-capacity generators can support heavy-duty appliances like your AC unit and refrigerator — plus, you can generate your own clean, renewable electricity using the solar panel(s) included.
If you live in a desert or extremely hot-temperature region prone to blackouts, consider a whole-house off-grid power option. Solutions like the EcoFlow Smart Home Ecosystem help you achieve complete power independence. When the grid shuts off, the Smart Home Panel automatically switches the power source to your home backup system.
5 Extreme Heat Safety Tips
Being in extremely high temperatures can feel like being trapped in an oven. Smart coping strategies are crucial to preventing illnesses and allowing yourself to go about your day without delay.
Let’s look at ways to help you better manage the high temperatures.
1. Drink Lots of Water
Staying hydrated is vital during a heat wave. If you don’t drink enough water, you risk dehydration, which leads to heat exhaustion.
Consuming water replaces the fluids lost from sweating, which helps your body stays cool. Drinking cold-refrigerated water has a more significant effect on reducing body temperature than consuming room-temperature water. Aim to drink at least three-quarters of a gallon of water (3L) daily.
2. Stay Inside
Staying indoors is the best way to reduce your risk. Find the coolest room in your home and spend as much time there as possible. Stay on the lowest floor and out of the sunshine if you live in a multi-story home.
Also, cool or cold showers are another great way to reduce body temperature.
3. Dress for the Heat
Whether you’re staying indoors or out, avoid wearing heavy clothing. Instead, wear lightweight, lightly colored, and loose-fitted clothing.
Natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and hemp are great options. Don’t wear fabrics that hold sweat, like flannel and polyester. Consider wearing clothes made of synthetic sports fabrics designed to wick away sweat and keep you cool.
4. Don’t Overexert Yourself — Limiting Physical Activity
The day’s early hours can be deceptive during a heat wave.
What looks like a beautiful day for an extended hike or other outdoor adventure can quickly turn dangerous during peak sun hours in extreme heat.
During a heat wave, it’s best to restrict your physical activities to early morning and evening hours and avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day.
That doesn’t mean you can’t stay fit.
Hit the treadmill in an air-conditioned gym and skip the outdoor jogs when temperatures approach or exceed 100 °F (37.8 °C).
If you have any underlying health conditions that put you at greater risk for heat-related illness, try to avoid going outside during extreme heat altogether.
Stay inside in a well-ventilated — or preferably air-conditioned — environment.
Don’t have a central AC?
A portable air conditioner can keep at least one large room in your home cool during a heat wave.
5. Beware the Signs of Heat-Related Illness
We’ve all felt woozy or lightheaded in extreme heat.
Listen to your body.
If you “don’t feel right” — get out of the heat.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Sweating profusely
If you get out of the sun (or heat) ASAP after experiencing these or any other signs of heat exhaustion, your body is likely to recover quickly. Resting in a cool environment, drinking plenty of cold water or electrolyte, and taking a cold bath or shower can all help you recover from heat exhaustion.
If you don’t get out of the heat, exhaustion can progress to heat cramps or heatstroke.
Heatstroke is considered a medical emergency and can lead to permanent disability or death — especially in older adults and people with underlying health conditions.
According to the CDC, “body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes” during a heatstroke.
Heatstroke symptoms include
- Body temperature of 103 °F (39.4 °C)
- Hot, dry skin (Sweating stops, and your body is unable to cool itself)
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness and confusion
- Loss of consciousness
If you, or someone you know, suffers any of the above symptoms, play it safe.
Immediately get out of the heat and call 911. If it will take a long time for the ambulance to arrive, place yourself or the person suffering heatstroke symptoms in an ice bath if possible. Rapid cooling (within 30 minutes) can help limit physical damage and even prevent death.
Can Extreme Heat Make You Sick?
Yes, extreme heat can make you sick — or even kill you. When excessive heat hits your body, you’ll begin to sweat profusely. If the humidity and temperatures are too high, the sweating won’t be effective enough to reduce your body temperature, thus causing heat-related illnesses like:
- Heat cramps
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat stroke
- Heat rash
Some illnesses like heat stroke are life-threatening. Heat stroke occurs when your body temperature rises above 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41°C) within minutes.
What Does Extreme Heat Do to Your Body?
Typically, our bodies sweat or increase their heart rate when attempting to cool off. When exposed to extreme heat, it becomes difficult for your body to regulate its temperature properly.
You may experience dizziness when you’re dehydrated and lack sufficient water. Your heart rate increases as your body works harder to regulate your temperature. You may have heat rashes in areas with skin-to-skin contact. Also, the increased blood flow can cause your ankles to become swollen.
What Are the Symptoms of Too Much Heat?
If your body is overheating and you have a high temperature, you may have a heat illness. The most common heat illnesses are heat rash, cramps, exhaustion, or heat stroke. They occur when your core temperature rises above normal levels. It’s common to experience heat illnesses from dehydration or too much time in the heat.
The most common symptoms of heat-related illnesses are:
- Itchy skin
- Red skin
- Pain that is prickly or tingly
- Blisters or small bumps
- Muscle cramps
- Quick, shallow breathing,
- Thirst and heavy sweating
- Elevated heart rate and body temperature
- Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
- Weakness, dizziness, fainting, and lack of coordination
- Decrease in urination
- Hallucination, confusion, altered mental state, and slurred speed
- Dry, hot skin
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can You Protect Yourself From Extreme Heat?
The easiest way to protect yourself during heat waves and extreme heat is to stay indoors — preferably in an air-conditioned environment. If that’s not an option, stay hydrated, limit your time in the sun as much as possible, and if you begin to feel unwell, head to a cool environment ASAP.
Is It Safe to Go Out in a Heat Wave?
It’s safer not to go outside during peak sun hours in a heat wave. However, staying indoors indefinitely isn’t a realistic option for most people. Try to limit your time outdoors to early morning and late afternoon/night when temperatures tend to be cooler. Stay hydrated and get indoors if you don’t feel right.
Blistering heat waves are becoming more prevalent on every continent. Rising temperatures put you at risk for heat-related illnesses.
The most important things you can do is to hydrate, stay cool and have plenty of backup power to run your air-conditioning units at home.
For energy-efficient options to stay cool and back up your home electrical supply, shop EcoFlow. Our Wave Portable AC and solar generators give you the tools you need to ride out the next heat wave in safety and comfort.