Many areas of the country experienced record-breaking heat in 2021, and many aren’t prepared for another heat wave. Unexpected problems resulted from 2021’s unprecedented heat. Even with the Portland tram running on 100% renewable energy, cables warped, and wires expanded and sagged under record-breaking heat, causing the system to be shut down. Washington’s asphalt roads buckled and some parts of the Pacific Northwest (PNW), set heat index records.
Experts predict that heat waves will be commonplace. However, you can prepare your family, car, and home to deal with high temperatures by making a heatwave plan.
Summer 2021 heat waves
June 2021 was the hottest June in 127 years of record-keeping for the United States, with the average temperature across the contiguous U.S. at 72.6 degrees F (4.2 degrees above average).
It was the hottest ever June in Arizona, California and Idaho, Massachusetts. It was also the second-hottest June ever recorded in six other states: Connecticut, Maine and Montana, Oregon. Washington, Wyoming.
The country’s western halves felt the most severe heat effects. The West Coast was engulfed in a heat dome for much of the second half of June. This caused daily heat waves. On June 15, several Southwest states recorded temperatures above 106 degrees, with the highest recorded at 124 degrees in Death Valley, California.
The Pacific Northwest and western Canada experienced the worst heat wave in the region’s modern records over a four-day period in late June, with temperatures shattering record highs up and down the coast:
- Portland Oregon: 116° on June 28, 2021
- Seattle, Washington: 108° on June 28, 2021
- Quillayute (washington, on the Pacific coast): 110° on June 28, 2021
- Lytton (British Columbia, Canada): 116° on June 27, 2021 (the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada).
Are there more heat waves in the future?
A heat dome is a high-pressure system pushing down on hot air rising into the atmosphere. The heat dome keeps the cycle going by making the air hotter and denser with no place to go but down. The heat dome phenomenon was responsible for 2021’s PNW Heat Dome, a rare once-in-a lifetime event.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that 2021’s heat dome was ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ at all, and experts are saying it is likely to happen again. Temperatures are likely to continue rising due to heat waves that will be more frequent and intense across the country. Climate change is the reason for the current heat dome.
The heat dome has also been called an “omega block,” allowing strong weather systems to remain in place rather than move swiftly from west to east. With record heat waves becoming more frequent and more frequent, decades of data point to climate change.
Extreme heat can have devastating effects
Although most people are aware that extreme heat can be dangerous to your health, there are many other adverse effects.
Severe body temperature increases cause heatstroke during heat waves. Heatstroke is most common in the immunocompromised, young and fit individuals who are performing strenuous activity in hot temperatures. Heatstroke patients can experience delirium, seizures, combativeness, and even a complete coma. Data from the last 30 years shows heat is the #1 cause of death for weather-related fatalities.
Hot car deaths
Sitting in a hot vehicle can prove fatal when temperatures rise. Children and animals left in cars during the hottest months are more at risk. Hot car safety statistics show the second leading cause of death in children under 15 is heatstroke from being in a hot car. 25% of those deaths were due to child error. Hot vehicles can also pose a risk to elderly people.
Extreme heat can lead to wildfires in areas that are already experiencing drought conditions. During the June heatwave, as much as 89% of the West were in severe drought conditions. Eight states saw large fires erupted, with 28 of them being fueled by the absence of moisture and record-breaking heat.
Vehicles can break down more in hot temperatures, especially if the car has not been kept up on routine maintenance. Low fluid levels can cause the engine to heat up quickly. Due to the high demand on the air conditioner inside the car and outside temperatures, battery wear can accelerate and lead to failure. The tires could lose air pressure which can lead to a blowout on hot pavement.
Prepare for future heat waves
It seems like extreme heat waves will be here for the long-term, but there are things you can do to prepare if one does hit your area.
- Vehicle breakdowns are a possibility. Make sure you have roadside help to avoid overheating. Most auto insurers offer a roadside assistance plan, which may come with an additional cost.
- Roof maintenance should be done regularly. Roof leaks can be caused by extreme temperatures. Check your homeowners insurance policy to see whether your provider covers roof damage due to extreme heat.
- Blackout curtains and other materials can be used on windows and doors to keep the sun out of your home. This will help to keep your family cool, and lower your energy bills.
- To keep cool air in, check for leaks at your windows and doors.
- To keep your air conditioner running efficiently, make sure to change the filter in your home and your car.
- Simple meals don’t require heating the home with an oven or stove. Pre-cook cold foods such as salads or chicken and fish in the cooler hours of day for use with meals.
- Regular maintenance of your car includes topping off fluids, filling the tires with air, and charging the AC.
- To create green space, plant trees and keep your family and car shaded from future heat waves.
- Make sure you have enough water at home and on the road.
Extreme heat: How to cope
These are some ways to protect yourself and your family members from the worst.
- If you don’t plan on leaving your pet or children at home, it is best to avoid bringing them along.
- Plan for how you will stay cool in the event of power outages or unplanned blackouts.
- To avoid sunburn, stay out of the sun
- Get plenty of water, and stay away from alcohol and caffeine.
- Cool showers and baths are recommended.
- If you are in need of relief from heat, find out where the cooling centers are located.
- Avoid eating heavy meals and choose cool foods like fruits and veggies.
- In case of an outage, keep your electronic devices charged.
- Only go outside in the coolest part of the day.
- Wear light-colored clothes made from natural fibers.
- Know the symptoms of heat-related illnesses to prevent heat stroke and pay attention to your family members and pets. If you think you may have heat stroke, seek immediate medical attention.
- Avoid strenuous activities outside.
- Be sure to check on your friends, neighbors, and family members.
- If you don’t have one, install one. Fans will not prevent heat-related illness in excessive temperatures.
- Plan for extreme heat if it is forecast. You can go grocery shopping, run errands, and fill prescriptions without ever having to go outside.
It doesn’t matter if or when the next heat wave will hit the U.S. But making some preparations now and simply having a plan can help you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.