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Extreme heat can cause serious negative health impacts ranging from dehydration and heat exhaustion to heat stroke and possibly death.
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-exiting medical and mental health conditions
- outdoor workers
- people with reduced mobility
- people who are 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
Preparing for extreme heat
Being prepared for extreme heat events can help to keep your home cool. It’s important to know your options when experiencing an event. Although individual circumstances may vary, everyone must remember to stay:
Staying cool, hydrated, and informed during extreme heat is much easier if you have a plan and all the supplies you need.
How to prepare
- Prepare a personal health plan/ family plan for extreme heat events, and build an emergency kit for your family and pets.
- Identify if family, friends or neighbours are at higher risk of heat illness.
- Consider having a ‘Heat Buddy’ to check in on you if you live alone. If you know someone who lives alone, consider checking in on them.
- Know temperatures indoors and outdoors by checking local weather forecasts and the thermostat inside your home.
- Consult with your doctor for additional health advice based on your medical condition:
- 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.
- Be aware of local community resources and prepare a list of contact numbers or web links where you can get help.
- Keep plenty of food, cool drinks and medication on hand to limit going out shopping during extreme heat events.
- Stock up on items like fans, spray bottles, and make ice and prepare jugs of cool water. Vests and mats that you can soak with water can help cool your pets.
- Top up your vehicle fuel tank in case you need to relocate to a cooler place.
- Make sure air-conditioners or fans are working properly.
Build emotional preparedness by taking care of your mental health. Coping and wellness actions can help you think clearer, make informed decisions and recognize when it is time to ask for help. To get started, visit 211 Alberta to find out what community information, resources and supports are available near you.
Staying cool 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.
- If safe, open doors and windows at night.
- Take cool showers or baths or use a misting bottle.
- Identify cool zones in your home – basements or one room that can be kept cool. Consider using that space to sleep.
- Available fans can help move cooler air indoors 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 an air conditioner, 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 accommodations). Include how to get there (own vehicle, family, friend, public transport). Examples include:
- shopping malls
- swimming pools and spray parks
- movie theatres
- community centres
- places of worship
- indoor recreation centres
Staying cool outdoors
Schedule outdoor activities carefully and take regular breaks.
- Lower your activity level and avoid strenuous activity during the heat.
- Plan errands or outdoor activities early or late in the day when it is generally cooler.
- Avoid direct sun and rest often in shady areas to allow your body to cool and recover.
- Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing that covers the skin, UV-protective sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat.
- Use sunscreen SPF30 or higher.
- Never leave people or pets alone in closed vehicles or in direct sunlight.
Drink plenty of water before you feel thirsty. Be aware that sugary, caffeinated or 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
- Fort McMurray, Fort McKay
- Okotoks, High River, Claresholm
- City of Edmonton, St. Albert, Sherwood Park
- Fort Saskatchewan, Vegreville, Redwater, Smoky Lake
During an extreme heat event
During a heat wave, the indoor temperature of homes without indoor cooling will continue to get hotter with each passing day. Have a plan:
- identify areas in your home that stay the coolest, what you can do to keep them cool, and how you can set it up for sleeping
- prepare meals that don’t need to be heated as using appliances will increase the indoor temperatures
- if your home is too warm, consider leaving to stay with friends, family, your heat buddy, or look for public spaces with indoor cooling
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
- 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
- Move to a cool place out of the sun.
- Lay the person down and apply cool wet cloths.
- 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)
- lack of sweat, very hot, red skin
After calling 911, take these steps if someone shows signs of heatstroke
- Move to a cool place out of the sun.
- Remove outer clothing and shoes.
- Wrap in a wet towel or cloth.
- Do not give fluids.
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.
Heat and outages
Extreme heat can lead to power and water outages. Sign-up for notifications from your utility provider so you are notified of any issues in your area.
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. If you rely on an elevator or have reduced mobility, have a back-up plan for exiting your building and getting supplies.
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.
- Extreme heat preparedness: Before the heat
- Extreme heat infographic: Be prepared for extreme heat
- Extreme heat information sheet: General public
- Extreme heat information sheet: Seniors
- Extreme heat information sheet: Adult care facilities
- Extreme heat information sheet: Schools
- Extreme heat information sheet: Child care facilities
- Extreme temperature heat alerts: Stakeholder notifications
Alberta Electric System Operator Grid Alerts (#ABElectricity)
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