How to survive a heatwave

by Dec 5, 2020Survival

Heading into Summer usually sees different parts of the country facing heatwave conditions at various times of the season.  Depending on the weather conditions it can be a taxing time even fatal.  Following some simple guidelines can make surviving a heatwave at lot easier.

What is a heatwave?

Is a period of three or more days where the minimum and maximum temperatures are above the normal range for that time of year.  Often caused by a high pressure system trapping the air a location allowing it to heat up or the air flow changes drawing the heated air from hotter climates towards a cooler climate.



What are the risks of overheating?

Everyone handles heat differently depending on the climate you are used to, your age or some medications affect your ability to handling heat.  But it doesn’t matter how tough you are once the temperature starts to get over 35 degrees you will start to have problems with heat stress, dehydration, cramps and more.

 Overheating can lead to Heat Exhaustion and if that is not controlled it will progress to Heat Stroke and if left untreated death is the next stage.

Heat exhaustion

When the body temperature falls between 37 to 40 degrees you will experience the following systems as the body tries everything to cool itself.  This process dehydrates the body more which if left untreated will lead to heat stroke.  Heat exhaustion shows the following symptoms:

 Excessive sweating

  • Pale skin
  • Dizziness, feeling weak
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fast weak pulse
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps

 To treat someone with these symptoms

 Remove them from the heat source into cool shady area

  • Loosing tight clothes.  Especially where the body loses heat easily like the head and feet.
  • Cool the body gently with a shower, fan or wet towels (throwing them into an ice bath could make the problem worse)
  • If conscious give them sips of cool (not cold) water.  Cold drinks could cause stomach cramps and vomiting.
  • If condition does not improve call emergency services 000

 Heat Stroke

The bodies core temperature is over 40 degrees.  If you suspect any of the following symptoms call emergency services 000 immediately.

  •  Altered mental state, dizziness, unconscious, convulsions, slurred speak
  • Flushed skin
  • Skin may be hot, dry and sweating stops
  • Shallow breathing
  • Feeling extremely thirsty
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fast weak pulse
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps 

To treat someone with heat stroke

  • Call for ambulance immediately
  • Follow all directions given by ambulance
  • Remove them from the heat source to cool shady area.
  • Cool them down by shower, hose, wetting clothing and fanning.
  • If unconscious, carry out first aid as required


How to stay cool in a heatwave?

 To avoid health problems from overheating you should look to saying a cool as possible.  The first thing that people say is ‘air conditioning’ and ‘cold beer’.  Air conditioning is the most commonly chosen but you have to watch your hydration levels with beer which is an alcohol which is dehydrating. 

Air conditioning

 A popular method for cooling down throughout the year.  To save electricity and money consider cooling a small area of the house instead of the whole house and set the temperature slightly higher say 25 degrees so the air conditioner does not have to work as hard.  During heatwaves we don’t need a cold room just the temperature lower than it is outside.

 An advantage of air conditioning is that it cools the room to the temperature desired.  If you don’t have air conditioning you can spend the day at the local shopping centre.

 The disadvantage of relying on air conditioning is that

  • Running the air conditioner all day blows out the electricity bill as they are expensive to run.
  • It requires electricity.  Another problem of heatwaves is that everyone one has their air conditioner pumped to maximum putting too much draw on the electricity grid.  The grid was not designed for the extra load and starts to fail, resulting in black outs.
  • The air conditioner removes humidity thus drying out the air so you need to stay hydrated.

 Cold food and drinks

 In warmer weather we reach for foods like ice cream, cool fruits (like cold watermelon), salads and cold drinks (anything from water to alcohol).  Just remember if you are overly hot don’t pig out on really cold or frozen foods as they can give you stomach cramps to the point of feeling like you’re having a heart attack.

 Stay hydrated, in really hot conditions you could drink as much as 10 litres per day and not notice.  

The symptoms of dehydrated

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Infrequent dark, smelly urine
  • Light headed, dizzy
  • Dry lips and mouth
  • Developing a head ache 

It is also important to keep your electrolytes up.  Electrolytes include Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium and Calcium.  They can be found in the favourite sports drinks but read the label first.  Some popular brands don’t contain all four electrolytes.  And also check the ratio of sport drink to plain water you should be having in a day. Too many electrolytes in one day can be bad for your health, causing vomiting, dizziness, kidney problems, heart problems and more. 

Stay away from excesses of alcohol.  Beer, wine and spirits all dehydrate the body.  Alcohol is a diuretic, making your body urinate more than usual to process the alcohol.  Drink water before and after a drink of alcohol to stay hydrated if you really must have a drink.



Cooling your environment

 In the millennia before electricity our ancestors had to use passive means of cooling their environment in warmer climates.  These elements can still be included in building design today.

 Keep the sun off hard surfaces.  The sun radiates down on the driveway, deck, foot path or bare ground heating it up.  The built up heat then radiates back into the local environment.  Shade areas with vegetation, trees, shade sails, pergolas or similar.

 Shade your windows.  Curtains do keep a degree of heat out of the building but not all.  They prevent the suns radiation from heating up the floor which would radiate into the room.  But the glass still heats up radiating some heat into the area.  On a hot day feel between your curtains and the glass to see how hot it is.  The amount of heat that gets through the glass will depend on the type of glass, single, double glazing or if it is tinted.   Having awnings on the outside of the building prevents the heat getting to the windows in the first place.

 Increase air flow.  This can be done by the use of a fan (ceiling, pedestal or hand held).  The roof can have passive vents, whirly birds or similar drawing the hot air out of the roof.   Houses can be designed to catch the breeze to help cool it.  Increased air flow cools the body by evaporation.  Houses on stumps have added air flow under the building.

 Love your garden.  Having moist green vegetation around the house cools the breezes.  If water is a problem have the lush area up wind of your home.  Design your garden to be water wise by using mulch, water crystals and watering at the best time of day usually early morning or evening.



Staying Cool

 Avoid being in the sun in the hottest part of the day usually around 10am to 3pm.  This includes lying on the beach. 

Don’t get sun burnt.  Sun burn overheats the body making it harder to regulate its own temperature.

 Dress lightly, wear loose cotton clothing.  Don’t wear tight fitting clothing, synthetic materials that don’t breathe and don’t wear multiple layers of clothes.  Let the air circulate allowing the sweat to evaporate.  This is harder in high humidity climates where evaporation is minimal.

Take regular breaks when you are working and getting overheated.  Every ten to fifteen minutes have a short break and a drink of water.

 Plan your daily workload.  If the forecast is showing hotter weather plan your day so you not out in the hottest part of the day.  Maybe start earlier than usual, moving to the shade or indoors as it heats up and then going back outdoors in the evening as it cools down a bit.

 Rethink your tasking, heat waves don’t go on forever.  If you are in a business that works outdoors and a heatwave warning has been given re think your staff tasks while it is happening.  It might be a good time to do some refresher training indoors (the staff probably won’t object to working in air conditioning).

 Check out your safety shop.  There are a range of cool suits, neck wraps, cooling ties and caps available to keep you cool while still working.  If the budget doesn’t go that far you could wrap some ice or esky brick in a towel.

 Don’t leave kids or animals in the car during the day!  Don’t believe me, go sit in the car with the engine off and windows up for a few minutes.  It can get over 50 degrees so death will occur rapidly.  Leaving children and animals in the car is a criminal offence in most areas now.  Keep the empty car locked to prevent kids getting in when you are not looking.

 Don’t forget your pets and animals too.  Some animals handle the heat worse than others.  In big heatwaves you may need to consider bringing them into the air conditioning.

 Think safe, don’t be a hero.  If you feel heat affected find a cool area, drink water and cool down.  If your home doesn’t have cooling then go somewhere that does such as shopping centre.  Check on your neighbours and the elderly as they may not be able to get themselves to a cooler environment. 

 Heat waves cause a short period of discomfort and disruption but follow the rules and you’ll make it through it.



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