Heatwaves and Preventing Heat Deaths

There were hundreds of heatwave deaths in the Pacific Northwest of North America this year.

Many of the dead were found alone, in homes without air conditioning or fans. Some were elderly — one as old as 97. In Canada, British Columbia’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said her office received reports of at least 486 “sudden and unexpected deaths” between Friday and Wednesday afternoon. Normally, she said about 165 people would die in the province over a five-day period.

Heat above 32 degrees celsius (90F) celsius can start becoming quite dangerous. France had huge numbers of deaths at 110F. A few more degrees do not matter. Things become very dangerous and heatwave plans, reliable power and air conditioning are needed.

France reduced heatwave deaths from 15000 in a 2003 heat wave to 1462 in 2019. France did better than two decades ago but did worse than the Pacific Northwest of North America. France has less air conditioning in homes and buildings.

France created the 2004 National Heat Wave Plan. It is a top to bottom nationwide action plan setting out who should do what when temperatures reach certain levels. There were multimedia warnings to people about the heat wave and advising them how to cope with its effects.

The plan sets four levels of preparedness, from keeping a special eye out between June 1 and Sept. 15 up to “maximum mobilization” declared by the prime minister. At each stage the apparatus of the state, ranging from the national government to local pharmacies and mayors, swings into action.

A major thrust concerns publicity. 2019 marked the first time the authorities declared a top-level “red alert” and the first priority.

They remind people of the simple commonsense steps that they might not always follow” such as drinking at least a liter of water a day, eating normally, and avoiding outdoor exercise.

Homes for older people were required to provide a “cool room” for their residents – either air conditioned or shaded and facing north. School outings and sporting events were canceled.

In 2003, the death toll was especially high among isolated old people; every town hall in the country is now obliged to keep a register of its senior citizens so that health workers or volunteers can check up on them by phone or in person.

Japan used a similar media campaign after it had reduced power without nuclear plants from 2010-2012.

Air conditioning around the world consumes 1 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity yearly, and the use of air conditioning could increase 10 times by 2050.

A mass media and online public information campaign in Japan urged people to set their air conditioners to 28°C (82°F), to run them less, and to switch to electric fans. People also were advised to drink more water, dress in cool clothing, wear hats outdoors, and use blinds and curtains to block sunlight. Businesses allowed far more casual work attire than usual and shifted hours of operation to cooler times. Lights were dimmed in public areas, workplaces, and stores.

About two-thirds of households changed their energy use habits, whereas only 4% of households bought and installed newer energy-efficient air conditioners.

SOURCES- CS Monitor, Environmental Health Perspectives, Epidemiology
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

31 thoughts on “Heatwaves and Preventing Heat Deaths”

  1. You can adopt the cultural custom of the siesta, and stop working on the hottest part of the day. That does mean you have to work until later to compensate, but it unless you are working close to 150 h in a week, that is theoretically possible.

    Of course, if you absolutely cannot stay in the shade, then you should drink a lot more water to compensate. But it is a great minority who cannot find a way to be productive in the shade during the hottest part of the day. It's in the employer's interest that their employees do not become sick and have to skip days off work, after all.

  2. The weather models are predicting a serious heatwave this weekend for California inland, but not quite as bad as the recent one in the pacific northwest (which the models called out crazy predictions like 120 for Portland due to some weird forcing factors common to some models, though it was records breaking so the models weren't too far off…)

  3. Pretty sure the 90 year old French ladies who die in such heat waves are not putting in a 50 hour week digging potatoes in the sun.

  4. They are confusing temperature with "wet bulb temperature".
    High 30s AND high humidity is lethal

  5. shading on the outside better. Once the UV hits the window and transfers the heat into the room or hanging drape (rather than absorbing much or reflecting) you're already sweaty.

  6. how does one 'stay in the shade'? when you work 50+ hr weeks, you are either very much inside or very much outside -and- expected to be busy and profitable…

  7. A lot of it is acclimation. a week of 90F+ and high humidity — now you can keep the windows open without AC over 85 in the day and 75 at night…

  8. No kidding. It really must be a failure to keep hydrated, humans are originally evolved to handle high temperatures, as long as you have an adequate supply of water, you should never die of excess heat in Canada of all places. As they said in an SI article on heat regulation years ago, "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun. The difference is the mad dogs die."

    I live in South Carolina these days, where sometimes it's over 100 with humidity so high there's dew on the ground in the shade, and routinely spend 45 minutes to an hour speed walking at noon. I get hot, sweat, and drink lots of water. And I'm in my 60's.

    It's my understanding, though, that almost all of these heatwave deaths, (Babies excepted.) are people who were not long for this world anyway, and the stress of dealing with the heat just pushes them over the edge.

    I believe that's why European governments make noises about caring, but just noises. It saves them a good deal of money moving these deaths up a little, in terms of end of life care.

  9. Oh I lather up with sunscreen before a ride like that.

    And long sleeves too, which in the sun are actually cooler than bare arms (assuming a modern cool sun-protection fabric).

    If I do get burnt it's almost always just my knees.

  10. Apparently as you get older, your ability to sense the heat or dehydration is dampened. So the elderly rely a lot on habit when it comes to drinking enough or limiting outdoor activities, and they tend to be the ones that die in these things.

  11. I also live in a place that reaches those sorts of conditions, and that's terribly dangerous. You could get a sunburn.

  12. England is even funnier. I've literally seen comments from the British about the "scientific fact that humans can not live at temperatures above 37 C because that's body temperature and you will just get hotter and hotter until you die".

    Meanwhile I've done 120 km bike rides on a 46 C day. And yes, I probably went through several litres of water. Or rather, it went through me.

  13. Bottled water is great.
    It transfers money from fools to much smarter people. As money results in increased political power, this increases the political influence of smart people and minimises that of fools.
    At this point it may be our only hope.

  14. Medicare have a list of seniors. They should do call ups. Local municipals should already have senior centers. They just need to contact the seniors and see how they are. If they are having difficulty then collected them and bring then into the senior center to cool down.

    Should think about providing the poor seniors air conditioning and the power to power the unit.

  15. Yes, how about mining coins by having TV viewers periodically answer add related questions while viewing?

  16. Yes, the West as stated, where the heat dome is at. Although my comment is satirical in nature, I wouldn't want them set up near minority voting areas.

  17. By the 'West' I hope you mean the arid parts of the US. Mist makers won't help when it is hot AND humid.

  18. Bottled water is a *SCAM*
    Tap water is fine in most places.
    BTW I was sticking my under the tap in the kitchen sink & running cold water over it every so often, while the temperature was in the 30s last week in Calgary.

  19. Being from a tropical country, it is always strange when this business of heatwave deaths is brought up. It is truly a cultural phenomenon. People in temperate climates aren't used to drinking as much water as they should when it is hot out. If they do, then it doesn't matter whether one has air conditioning or not; one may feel uncomfortable, particularly if the temperature rises above 310 K, but plenty of water and staying in the shade will tide one through.

  20. In the West, we need an infrastructure of mist makers to cool people off and swimming pool theaters.

  21. I don't understand why you kept adding on more articles of clothing for people to wear. You were done at "wet T-shirt".

  22. How about a little thermo & heat transfer? You know, that 'Science' stuff.
    It's wet T-shirt time. If you're bashful, wear 2. And a wet towel on your head, that reaches to the bottom of your neck. Add wet cotton pants & recycle as necessary. Shade & a fan will keep you as cool as you like.

  23. Bitcoin should also be banned in th US. It is a parasite that uses a lot of energy for no purpose. Coin mining, what an idiotic activity.

  24. Ooohh. I hear those bigger Bitcoin miners have redundant power supplies and there may be a spike in North American outposts getting new chips, pushing prices over $40k – and China cracking down…. that can't be good for power infrastructure throughout.

  25. Well Amazon. You can get a package to 90% of all people in 3 hours or less. Make it a complimentary 24-pack of water every week to all households with over 65s in the months of July and August. What? Are they $2 each case now.

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