Heat (Heat Wave)

Why Talk About Extreme Heat?

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(PDF File of this Page) Heat can kill by pushing the human body beyond its limits. Under normal conditions, the body's internal thermostat produces perspiration that evaporates and cools the body. However, in extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Elderly people, young children, and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to become victims of extreme heat. Because men sweat more than women, they are more susceptible to heat illness because they become more quickly dehydrated.

The duration of excessive heat plays an important role in how people are affected by a heat wave. Studies have shown that a significant rise in heat-related illnesses happens when excessive heat lasts more than two days. Spending at least two hours per day in air conditioning significantly cuts down on the number of heat-related illnesses.

What is Extreme Heat?

The parameters of an extreme heat watch, warning, or advisory can vary by location. Generally, temperatures that hover 10 degrees or more above the average high temperature for the region, last for prolonged periods of time, and are often accompanied by high humidity, that the body cannot tolerate are defined as extreme heat. A heat wave is a very dangerous situation.

People living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than people living in rural regions. An increased health problem, especially for those with respiratory difficulties, can occur when stagnant atmospheric conditions trap pollutants in urban areas, thus adding unhealthy air to excessively hot temperatures. In addition, asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually releases heat at night, which produces significantly higher nighttime temperatures in urban areas known as the "urban heat island effect."

Learn about the risk of extreme heat in your area by contacting your local emergency management office, National Weather Service office, or American Red Cross chapter.

Awareness Information

Know these terms:

Watch for Signals

How to Treat a Heat Emergency

Plan for Extreme Heat

Develop a Family Disaster Plan. Please see the "Family Disaster Plan" section for general family planning information. Revisit your family disaster plan before summer heat is expected. Extreme heat- specific planning should include the following:

If you are at risk from extreme heat:

Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit

Please see the section "Disaster Supplies Kit" for general supplies kit information. Extreme heat-specific supplies should include the following:

Protect Your Property

Media and Comminity Education Ideas

What to Do During Extreme Heat

For information pertaining to emergency planning and response in your own state, please see our state pages:
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