Strong heat may sound like a loose term for when the pavement outside is blistering, but it actually has a definition in the world of meteorology. Strong heat is defined as a situation when summertime temperatures become much higher or more humid than the expected average [1].

Depending on when and where you grew up, you may have limited experience with this phenomenon. However, the trend of extreme heat waves is continuing as the global temperature increases, with the frequency and intensity of these heat waves expected to continue rising throughout the 21st century.

“Strong heat is defined as when summertime temperatures become much higher or more humid than the expected average.”

Between 2000 and 2016, the number of people who were exposed to heat waves increased by 125 million. We have already seen the devastation that extreme heat can cause, with 70,000 excess deaths in Europe in 2003, and more recently, 56,000 excess deaths in only 44 days in Russia [2]. Scientists have narrowed the regions most likely to experience heat waves to Russia, Central America, China, Australia, and central Europe [3].

Heat waves kill more than floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes combined.

Why does excessive heat occur? 

Heat waves are caused by high pressure systems. This creates a push that shoves warmer air closer to the ground. As pressure builds, the air gets compressed, which also causes it to warm further [4].

“Heat waves are caused by high pressure systems.”

As the air heats, it also pushes out to the sides, changing the course of other weather systems and forcing away cloud cover or winds. This creates an ever-increasing loop of hotter and hotter temperatures [4].

During a heat wave, the birth rate goes down and the murder rate goes up.

Effects of strong heat

Strong heat waves aren’t just uncomfortable—they can be downright dangerous. They also cause disruption to various industries that help to keep human life running smoothly, including agriculture, energy, and even human health.

Agriculture

Agriculture is often affected by higher heats, which you will understand if you have ever accidentally cooked a houseplant in front of a window. As the temperature increases, the ability to control the precise environment needed for high yield growth decreases.

Animal agriculture can also be affected by heat, with increased mortality often seen in poultry, pigs, or cattle. This is true even of farm-raised animals; heat stroke is just as difficult to manage for animal populations [5]. Droughts can also change the courses of rivers, impacting fish populations and affecting the health of downstream agricultural fields [5].

Energy

It may surprise you, but warmer temperatures also have an impact on the ability of your local power source to keep the aircon on. Not only does demand increase, but the ability of the powerlines to conduct electricity also decreases, which can lead to blackouts. Even whole power plants can be affected, as the temperature inside the plant is often controlled with the help of natural resources like lakes or rivers [6].

Human Health

Every living thing is affected by an increase in temperature, and humans are no exception! For us, the most important factor of strong heat is how the increase in heat waves can affect the human body. Heat is regulated very closely in the human body through a variety of processes, including sweating [2]. However, the ability of the body to get rid of heat through sweat happens when heat is lifted from the skin; moisture is lifted and evaporates into the air.

When the outside temperature is higher, moisture in the air is often increased, meaning that the air has less capacity to take in new moisture. This can lead to an inability for the human body to regulate its temperature, and can cause illnesses including heat exhaustion, heatstroke, or even death [2].

How to stay cool

“Hydration is more effective than even electric fans (which may not work once the temperature gets over 95 degrees Fahrenheit).”

It is vital to know how to stay cool even in the event of power cuts or other emergencies. The following tips and tricks will help you through even the toughest heat waves [2]:

  • Keep living spaces cool. Open windows at night or just after sunrise, but keep them closed during the day. Turn off any lighting or electrical devices that may contribute to the heat.
  • Stay hydrated. Hydration is more effective than even electric fans (which may not work once the temperature gets over 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit)). Be sure to avoid alcohol or sugars as well.
  • Keep medications in the refrigerator.
  • Use cool towels, cloths, showers, or baths, and wear loose, breathable clothing. A hat and sunglasses are especially important if leaving the house.
  • Avoid going outside during the hottest periods, and avoid any unnecessary activity.
  • Have a check-in plan with family and friends, and discuss specific measures that you can take at your residence.
  • Eat smaller meals more often to help regulate metabolism.
  • Be on the lookout for symptoms. Heat cramps are common, but you should seek medical attention immediately for cramps lasting over one hour. If you or anyone you know has hot dry skin, is delirious, or loses consciousness, contact medical professionals immediately.

Predicting heat waves with Sonuby

Sonuby is a great choice for predicting when the next heat wave will be rolling into town.

It offers a number of great forecasts, including

  • Hourly and weekly (felt) temperature forecasts
  • (Wet bulb temperature maps
  • UV index map
  • Extreme weather map

The maps in particular allow you to both predict heat waves at your location and easily find less hot and shady places to go.

 

References

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.html#:~:text=Extreme%20heat%20is%20defined%20as,hotter%20than%20it%20really%20is.

[2] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-heat-and-health

[3] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/heat-waves-records-risky-countries-climate-change/

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/article/heat-wave-cause.html#:~:text=Heat%20waves%20begin%20when%20high,weather%20systems%20to%20change%20course.

[5] http://www.bom.gov.au/watl/about-weather-and-climate/risk/risk-temperature.shtml

[6] https://www.c2es.org/content/heat-waves-and-climate-change/

FACT BOXES:

1 https://eden.uktv.co.uk/nature/earth/article/heatwaves-and-dro

This post is part of Sonuby's Weather Wednesdays series, where we discover exciting weather phenomena and interesting facts about the weather. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive posts like this one in your inbox.

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