Heatwaves are among the most dangerous natural hazards, but they often don’t receive the same attention as other extreme weather systems, such as hurricanes or tornadoes. It’s easy to underestimate the impact of heat waves.
According to the American Meteorological Society, a heatwave is “a period of abnormally and uncomfortably hot and usually humid weather.”
But high temperatures are only one factor that scientists consider when it comes to heatwaves. They also look at:
- Frequency: the number of heatwaves every year
- Duration: the length of each heatwave, in days
- Season length: the number of days between the first heatwave of the year and the last
- Intensity: how hot it is during the heatwave
In countries with colder climates, people often welcome the idea of a heatwave as a chance to go to the beach or eat outside. But these prolonged periods of hot weather can be deadly.
Are Heatwaves Getting Worse?
The short answer is yes. From 1998-2017, more than 166 000 people died due to heat waves. In just one heatwave in 2003, more than 70,000 people died. The situation is getting worse. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of people exposed to heatwaves increased by around 125 million.
The 2003 heatwave is just one example of extreme temperatures in the past 20 years. In summer 2010, Moscow suffered a heatwave with an unprecedented average July temperature, much hotter than any temperature recorded since records began in the 19th Century.
According to a study, there is an 80% probability that this heat record in Russia would not have occurred without climate warming. The study also reported that climatic warming had increased the number of new global-mean temperature records expected in the last decade from 0.1℃ to 2.8℃.
Heatwaves are also getting longer, increasing from an average of three days in the 1960s to an average of four days.
Some people –– such as the elderly –– are more vulnerable to suffering health problems due to heat waves. That’s why it’s essential to check in on people as temperatures soar to make sure they are adequately prepared.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe during a heatwave:
- Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, usually from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Keep blinds and curtains closed to keep the temperature inside down
- Splash yourself with water or have a cold shower
- Drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated
If you go outside, try to stick to the shade, wear light-colored clothing and bring a bottle of water with you.