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HomeCANADAConfronting the Heatwave: Being Prepared for Extreme Weather in Peel

Confronting the Heatwave: Being Prepared for Extreme Weather in Peel

By Dr. Farhan M. Asrar

The recent heatwave in Ontario and across Canada serves as a warning about the impacts of climate change and also as a reminder for us to be better prepared to protect ourselves from extreme heat.

Temperatures are rising around the world, and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is predicting higher than normal temperatures throughout summer. It is important for Canadians to be more aware of the impact extreme heat can have on their health, identify signs, know what steps to take, and arrange your summer plans accordingly. We also need to be mindful of those that are increased risk and ensure extra precautions are taken.

‘Extreme heat event’ describes a prolonged episode of hot environmental conditions. Heat warnings in Canada are issued when the temperature is at or higher than a certain temperature for two or more consecutive days. In Ontario, that number is 31°C in the South and 29°C in the North.

Impact of Extreme Heat

Extreme heat events have led to a significant number of preventable deaths. Previous Heat waves have caused 70,000 deaths during 2003 in Europe and 55,000 deaths in Russia in 2010. Previous heat waves in Canada have also led to hundreds of deaths. Climate change is leading to an increase in the frequency, duration and intensity of extreme heat events. Heat can also lead to other factors such as severe thunderstorms; and the heat also puts pressure on our electricity demands which can increase the chances of having power outages.

Who are at higher risk?

Those that are at increased risk include children, the elderly, those with chronic health issues (such as heart issues, obesity and lung issues), those with mental health conditions, those on medications; individuals who are bedridden &/or have difficulty in self-care; low socio-economic situation, and poor social support. Although being physically active is important and having health benefits, however, exercising and playing sports in extreme heat also puts one at an increased risk of having heat illness. Additionally, newcomers have to be more cautious as there may be a misconception among newcomers that Canada experiences cold temperatures throughout the year, and they also may not be aware of resources to assist during extreme heat.

Does Space have a role here?

I am often asked about the various roles that Space has to benefit Earth based concerns. Space technology has a major role in the monitoring, mitigation and prevention of temperature and weather related events. A number of satellites monitor Earth’s temperatures, in addition to observing the environment, climate; and monitoring the consequences of weather related events. The data is then used to model heatwaves and this space data helps in enhancing the prediction and management of heatwaves and extreme weather events. NASA’s Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) program provides free and open access to NASA’s Earth science data. Here, one can also find Extreme Heat Data which is freely available and includes data on temperature, humidity, weather maps and even heat related socioeconomic data.

Impact on Health and How to manage heat illness?

The impact on health involves heat illness which involves the body’s inability to cope with heat. The stages of heat illness range from heat edema (swelling), heat rash, heat cramps, going to more severe issues such as heat syncope (fainting), heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Health Canada, Environment Canada and your local Public Health unit provide a number of suggestions to help one protect themselves from the heat. First, it is always good to know your risks, talk to your family doctor to see if you fall under a higher risk category. Then it important to keep up with the news, and weather forecasts to know if there are any upcoming extreme heat events (make sure to factor this in prior to planning out any outdoor activity or trip).

Other steps to take to help with the heat is to ensure that you are adequately hydrated, wearing appropriate clothing, try to shade yourself from the heat (& apply sunscreen); eat and drink items that help keep you cool, and limiting going out during the hottest times of the day. Similarly, ensure your a/c is working adequately or get to know where ‘Cooling Centres’ are in your area.

Cooling centres are designated temporary public places set up by your local/regional public health which help you cool off during a heat warning. Many public health units have cooling centres, pools, and misting stations available.

It is also very important to reach out to your vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours to check on how they are handling the heat and taking appropriate steps to protect themselves.

Someone experiencing heat illness usually experiences symptoms such as dizziness, feeling faint, headache, nausea, increased thirst or feeling their breathing or heart rate is fast. When experiencing this, go to a cool environment, drink fluids, and depending on the severity or risk, seek medical attention.

One also has to be careful while staying indoors as indoor temperatures are also rising in homes, classrooms and in the workplace (especially if one may not have an a/c).

Due to the risk of having a power outage, it is also helpful to plan for it. The Canadian Red Cross recommends keeping an emergency kit which includes water, non-perishable food, medications, cash, and other items needed for your family for at least 3 days. https://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/emergencies-and-disasters-in-canada/types-of-emergencies/power-outage

Additionally, make sure your travel plans include heat management strategies to ensure safety and an enjoyable holiday, as heatwaves are currently also taking place around the world including in the U.S.A, Europe, Asia, G.C.C., South America, Africa, etc.

About the author:

Dr. Farhan M. Asrar is Associate Professor with the University of Toronto, Cross-Appointed with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Adjunct Faculty with McMaster University; and a Physician Leader with the Trillium Health Partners. Dr. Asrar is a  Peel based Public Health and Family Physician, and is internationally recognized for his expertise and research in public health, primary care, environmental health & climate change, and space medicine.

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