Currently Explains — Extreme Heat

Millions across the globe experienced sweltering temperatures this summer that they’ve, perhaps, never seen in their lifetime.

California is currently experiencing a late-season heatwave, a recent heatwave in China lasted over a month and broke records dating back to 1961. In July, the European heatwave reached its peak, breaking temperature records across the U.K. 

Climate change has ensured extreme heat impacts almost every human on the planet, even in the most temperate of climates. And these summer temperatures aren’t expected to decrease anytime soon. 

Even the most remote places are being impacted by extreme heat. In Coningsby, a UK village that lies as far north as southern Alaska, residents experienced temperatures that were considered a nearly 5-sigma event, or about one in a million

“Temperatures this hot were once considered science fiction — a dire warning of a distant future in 2050 without climate action. Now that future has arrived 28 years too soon,” Currently’s founder Eric Holthaus explained in a recent article.

The two most potentially harmful impacts of extreme heat include the threat of wildfires and heat-induced health complications, like heat stroke or exhaustion.

From 2004 to 2008, for example, heat stroke accounted for nearly 1,000 deaths in the United States.

Nearly 22 million are at risk of experiencing more than 5 extremely hot days this summer, according to research by the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with states like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Utah among the most vulnerable.

But, not everyone is impacted equally by this weather; those who are elderly, have preexisting health conditions, are a low-income, live in poor housing and/or live in urban areas without adequate tree cover, will be disproportionately impacted.

The best way to defend yourself against extreme heat, is too, quite simply, do your best to stay out of it.

Our team of climate writers and meteorologists — Renée Reizman out of Los Angeles, John Morales out of Southern Florida and Puerto Rico and Emilio Rey out of Spain — have some more concrete tips for how to deal with this uncomfortable weather phenomenon.

They include:

  • Avoid going out during the central hours of the day, when the radiation from the sun is at its strongest.
  • Take frequent, cool showers to stay cool.
  • Stay hydrated, and drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing.
  • Avoid outdoor exercise. 
  • Recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion and stroke.
  • Seek, and stay in, air-conditioned environments if you are able. 
    • And if you are unable to maintain a cool temperature within your home, Renée Reizman, our Los Angeles-based writer, says you might be able to find it in a public place. “Public libraries, indoor shopping malls, grocery stores and movie theaters are all good places to go.”
    • She also suggests investing in and building a “swamp cooler” — a cheap and energy efficient way to receive air conditioning.

However, like most climate experts, here at Currently we believe the most sustainable way of combating extreme heat is to address inequality itself, which becomes exacerbated and even more apparent during extreme weather.

Emilio Rey, who spearheads our Madrid newsletter, said it best: 

“At the governmental level, it is important that administrations ensure the well-being of workers exposed to these extreme temperatures, and in everyday life.”


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