Extreme heat can cause serious negative health impacts ranging from dehydration and heat exhaustion to heat stroke and possibly death.  

During heat waves, buildings with no indoor cooling systems will continue to get hotter with each passing day, increasing these risks. Heat waves can also lead to water and power outages, and increase our risk of other hazards such as wildfire.

Extreme heat affects everyone, but some people are at a higher risk of health impacts, including:

  • older adults
  • infants and young children
  • women who are pregnant
  • people with pre-existing medical and mental health conditions
  • outdoor workers
  • people with reduced mobility
  • people who live alone or are socially isolated
  • people who live in high density housing with no indoor cooling
  • people experiencing homelessness, or are marginally housed
  • some medications also increase risk of heat illness

Know how heat affects you and take precautions to reduce your risk.

Preparing for extreme heat

Being prepared can help prevent a heat wave from turning into a heat emergency. Plan ahead to make sure you have the supplies and support you need to stay safe. Being prepared for extreme heat events can help to keep your home cool. It is important to know your options when experiencing an event.

Although individual circumstances may vary, everyone must remember to stay:

  • cool
  • hydrated
  • informed
  • How to prepare

    • Make a plan that considers the unique needs of your household.
      • Include back up power options to keep medical and mobility equipment running, or medications from spoiling.
    • Gather supplies for all members of your household, including pets.
      • Store water (4 litres, per person, per day for a minimum of 72 hours) and non-perishable foods and snacks.
      • Fans and spray bottles can help to keep you cool and consider vests and mats that you can soak with water to help keep your pets cool too.
    • Identify family, friends and nearby community members who are at higher risk of heat illness and set up a ‘Heat buddy' system.
      • Buddies can check on each other, help with cooling measures in the home and call for help if needed.
    • Get informed by downloading the WeatherCAN app or by visiting Environment Canada’s Public Weather Alerts website. You can also sign up for alerts from your utility providers to be notified of outages.
    • Stay informed by identifying trusted sources of information such as your community’s website or social media channels.
      • Local news can provide you with updates on available supports and services.
      • Consider buying a digital thermometer to help you assess your risk of heat illness. 31°C and higher is dangerous for those most at risk.
    • Consult with your doctor for health advice:
      • If your health care provider limits the amount you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
      • Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medications impact your ability to cope with heat and follow their recommendations.
      • Coping and wellness actions can build your emotional preparedness which can help you think clearer, make informed decisions and recognize when it is time to ask for help. Visit 211 Alberta for more information.
    • Start a conversation with those around you to help raise awareness and motivate preparedness action. When heat is forecasted, ask questions like:
      • How do you keep your home cool?
      • Do you use indoor cooling or fans and are they working properly?
      • Do you know of any local, provincial or federal government grants or rebates that can help make homes more heat resistant?
    • Check out FireSmart for tips on fire resistant landscaping that can help you create shade for your home while reducing risk of fire.
    • Consider starting a savings account that you can use towards creating a more temperature safe home, such as:
      • indoor cooling (air conditioners and heat pumps)
      • thermal curtains, window coverings, external canopies, shutters, or reflective film
      • generator (backup power)
      • cooling pillows designed to improve air flow and wick away sweat
  • Tips to stay cool and safe indoors

    • Install curtains, blinds or awnings in windows to deflect the heat, and keep them closed during the day. A low-cost option is covering windows with cardboard.
    • Identify areas in your home that stay cool, think about how to keep them cool and how they can be set up for sleeping.
    • Fans help move cooler air from outdoors into your home during the late evening and early morning hours but should not be relied upon as a primary cooling method during extreme heat events.
    • If feasible, install a window air conditioner in at least one room.

    If you do not have indoor cooling, prepare a list of the nearest air-conditioned spaces or cooling centres that can accommodate your needs (for example, wheelchair accessible, children’s activities, pet friendly). Include how to get there (own vehicle, family, friend, public transport).

    Public places with air conditioning could include:

    • shopping malls
    • libraries
    • swimming pools and spray parks
    • movie theatres
    • community centres
    • places of worship
    • indoor recreation centres
  • Heat and outages

    Extreme heat can lead to power and water outages.

    • If you rely on an elevator or have reduced mobility, have a back-up plan for exiting your building and getting supplies.
    • Install a carbon monoxide detector with back up battery power.
    • Keep a checklist of all things you should do before and after a power outage like unplugging appliances and electronics to avoid damage when power is restored.
  • Stay hydrated

    • Drink plenty of water before you feel thirsty. Be aware that sugary, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks cause dehydration.
    • Eat hydrating foods such as fruits and fresh vegetables.
  • Regions most at risk

    Some areas of the province are known to have more extreme heat days than others. If your community is on this list, consider it another reason to ensure you are prepared.

    Historically, the top 10 hottest regions in Alberta are:

    • Brooks, Strathmore, Vulcan
    • Medicine Hat, Bow Island, Suffield
    • Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Foremost
    • Drumheller, Three Hills
    • Hanna, Coronation, Oyen
    • Lethbridge, Taber, Milk River
    • Okotoks, High River, Claresholm
    • City of Calgary
    • Lloydminster – Wainwright – Vermilion – Provost
    • Bonnyville – St. Paul – Cold Lake – Lac La Biche 

    See where your community ranks.

During an extreme heat event

  • Indoors

    It is important to keep your home as cool as possible during the day, as indoor temperatures peak in the evening hours.

    • Close all windows and doors during the day and block sunlight from entering by using window coverings.
    • Use exhaust fans when showering or cooking to remove humidity and heat. If possible, prepare meals that do not need to be heated as using appliances will increase the indoor temperatures.
    • Create a cross breeze by opening windows in the early morning or late evening and placing fans to pull cool air in and push hot air out.
    • Take a cool shower or bath and apply a cold towel to your neck. Staying cool at night can help you sleep so you can cope with the effects of extreme heat. If it is too hot to sleep indoors, find a safe place to sleep outdoors.

    If your home is too warm, consider leaving to stay with friends, family, your heat buddy, or look for public spaces with indoor cooling.

  • Outdoors

    When temperatures are high it is important to plan activities during the coolest part of the day. Check your local forecast daily to help you plan.

    • Drink water regularly, even if you do not feel thirsty.
    • Take breaks in cool areas often. Our bodies store heat and take time to cool down.
    • Wear sunblock and seek shaded areas, like a treed location. Umbrellas help to create shade and are cooler by several degrees.

    Wear the right clothing like materials that are loosely woven, lightweight, with a relaxed fit for air flow. Sportswear labels offer quick dry materials that wick away sweat and may offer UV protection. Hats that are wide brimmed or beaked help reduce heat absorption and protect your eyes.

  • Heat and air quality

    • Extreme heat and air quality events like wildfire smoke can happen at the same time. Monitor your local news, weather and air quality alerts for advice on actions you can take to protect yourself.
    • For most people, exposure to extreme heat is a bigger risk to health than short-term exposure to wildfire smoke. If you cannot get cool inside, go outside even if there is smoke.
  • Pets

    If it is too hot for people, it is too hot for our pets. Make sure they drink plenty of water and keep them out of the heat as much as possible, especially if they have medical conditions, are older or overweight. 

    • Never leave a pet unattended in a vehicle.
    • Brushing your pets coat promotes air circulation. Do not shave them as their fur protects them from the sun.
    • Use a spray bottle to give pets a cool misting.
    • Keep cages clean and throw away untouched food so bacteria do not grow and cause illness.

    When left home alone, leave pets in a cool place and ask your heat buddy to check on them.

  • Heat illness

    Heat illness such as heat exhaustion, or more serious heatstroke, are preventable. Take action to stay cool, hydrated, and informed throughout an extreme heat event.

  • Signs of heat exhaustion

    • rapid breathing and heartbeat
    • headache
    • dizziness or fainting
    • nausea or vomiting
    • extreme thirst
    • heavy sweating
    • muscle cramps
    • skin rash
    • dark urine and decreased urination

    Take these steps if someone shows signs of heat exhaustion

    1. Move to a cool place out of the sun.
    2. Lay the person down and apply cool wet cloths.
    3. Give small sips of water.

    Consult with a medical expert or contact Health Link at 811.

  • Signs of heatstroke

    Heatstroke is a medical emergency – call 911 immediately if you see these signs:

    • dizziness, fainting or unconsciousness
    • confusion and lack of coordination
    • strong, rapid pulse
    • extremely high body temperature (above 39.4 0C)
    • nausea
    • lack of sweat, very hot, red skin

    After calling 911, take these steps if someone shows signs of heatstroke

    1. Move to a cool place out of the sun.
    2. Remove outer clothing and shoes.
    3. Wrap in a wet towel or cloth.
    4. Do not give fluids.

Helping others

Check in on neighbours, friends and older family members, especially those who are chronically ill, socially isolated, or have mobility limitations, to make sure that they are cool and hydrated. If you have air conditioning, consider offering them a place to stay.

Call 911 if they are unconscious or need medical help.

Toolkit: Regional partners and organizations

Regional partners and organizations can use these resources to communicate to their communities about extreme heat events.

Resources and translations

Education material you can read, print and download to share online and within your community. Translated versions are also available in українською (Ukrainian), عربي (Arabic), 简体中文 (Simplified Chinese), 繁體中文 (Traditional Chinese), ਪੰਜਾਬੀ (Punjabi), Deutsch (High German), Plautdietsch (Low German), Español (Spanish), Français (French) and Tagalog (Tagalog).

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