As Canada melts, here's how to cope in extreme heat

·6 min read

Watch: Students hosed down by fire truck in 'extreme' Canada heat.

The Pacific north-west is experiencing a record-breaking heatwave, which is forcing people to sleep in 'cooling shelters' to get some relief from the blistering heat. 

The extreme heatwave has engulfed the region with both Portland and Seattle breaking record high temperatures (Portland hit 112F, while Seattle hit 104F) over the weekend, the highest temperature since 2009. 

In Ontario, Oregon, forecasters are predicting at least a week of triple-digit temperatures, including a high of 109F (42.8 C) on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a heat warning was issued in Vancouver, Canada after temperatures reached a record-breaking 47 degrees Celsius, leaving many vulnerable residents struggling in the sweltering heat.

It has been reported that more than 34 people in the city died suddenly on Tuesday and while it's still under investigation, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Michael Kalanj said heat is believed to be a contributing factor in the majority of the deaths. 

Read more: Need to cool down? Add this best-selling Amazon fan to your basket

The Pacific north-west is experiencing an extreme heatwave caused by a 'heat bomb'. (Getty Images)
The Pacific north-west is experiencing an extreme heatwave caused by a 'heat bomb'. (Getty Images)

Across the region, residents are turning to specially set up 'cooling centres', beaches, pools and air-conditioned shopping centres and hotels to get some relief.

On Sunday, Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, announced the opening of the Amazon Meeting Center as a cooling centre. 

For those without air conditioning some opted to sleep in their vehicles in underground car parks, while others improvised cooling devices using electric fans and bags of ice.

Read more: GMB doctor issues warning about popular heatwave hack people are using to keep cool in bed

Residents across north America are battling extreme temperatures. (Getty Images)
Residents across north America are battling extreme temperatures. (Getty Images)

So what's causing this extreme weather?

Meteorologists say the unprecedented conditions are being caused by a 'heat dome' over western Canada and parts of the US Pacific northwest.

A heat dome occurs when high pressure positions itself over an area, acting a little like a lid on a saucepan, and trapping heat.

BBC forecaster Nick Miller says that 'heat dome' isn't a strictly defined meteorological term but has become associated with describing large areas of high pressure, leading to clear skies and hot, sunny days. 

The longer the high pressure pattern lasts, the longer the heatwave is and temperatures can build day by day.

Climate scientists say global warming has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, but it is difficult to link any one specific event to the earth's increasing temperature.

Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington, who studies global warming and its effects on public health, told Associated Press that the extreme temperatures witnessed across the region could be a taste of the future as climate change reshapes global weather patterns.

“This event will likely be one of the most extreme and prolonged heatwaves in the recorded history of the inland Northwest,” the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“Residents are urged to avoid extended periods of time outdoors, stay hydrated and check on vulnerable family members/neighbours,” the service continued.

Read more: What are the signs and symptoms of heatstroke?

People turn to extreme measures to keep cool in an extreme heatwave. (Getty Images)
People turn to extreme measures to keep cool in an extreme heatwave. (Getty Images)

How to protect yourself in an extreme heatwave

While it is unlikely the UK will experience temperatures as high as those across the Pacific north-west it is important to know how to cope if the mercury suddenly spikes. 

There are around 2000 heat-related deaths per year in the UK, but in summer 2020 there were an estimated 2,556 all-cause excess deaths during episodes of hot weather across all ages (excluding deaths from COVID-19). 

This was the highest heatwave associated all-cause excess mortality observed in England since the introduction of the Heatwave Plan for England in 2004.

Last year also concluded the earth’s warmest 10-year period on record; with 2020 proving the second warmest year in the 170 year series.

"Although many of us enjoy the sunshine, as a result of climate change we are increasingly likely to experience extreme summer temperatures that may be harmful to health," Professor Dame Sally C Davies Chief Medical Officer Department of Health & Social Care writes in the Heatwave Plan for England

"For example the temperatures reached in 2003 are likely to be a ‘normal’ summer by 2040, and indeed globally, countries have already experienced record temperatures."

Watch: Destructive 'heat bombs' threatening Arctic sea ice. 

So how do you keep cool in the heat?

“During the summer months, especially during a heatwave, our homes can become incredibly warm, especially in any south-facing rooms that often feel like sun traps," says heating expert Jordan Chance from PlumbNation

"But there are many small adjustments we can make within our homes to keep cooler whilst temperatures rise."

Read more: Why sleeping with a fan might be bad for your health

How to keep cool in a heatwave. (Getty Images)
How to keep cool in a heatwave. (Getty Images)

Keep your curtains closed and windows shut

It might seem counter-intuitive to keep your windows shut in a hot weather, but keeping the sun's heat out of your home is key to keeping it nice and cool. This is why you always see shutters on homes in warmer countries. 

"Keeping your curtains closed helps stop the sun from heating up your house! It's also important to keep your windows closed when it's cooler inside than out." adds Chance. 

Take a cool shower and keep hydrated

Taking a cool or tepid shower especially later on in the day will help bring your body temperature down, which can help you sleep at night. 

"It's also really important to stay hydrated to prevent dehydration and keep your body cool. Your body also loses electrolytes through sweating so think about drinking fluids such as fruit juice to help replenish your body," Chance explains. 

Avoid heated and electric appliances

Having your oven turned on increases the temperature of your kitchen which can heat up the rest of your house. An excuse to get the BBQ out if ever we heard one! 

"Light bulbs and plugged in appliances also generate heat, so it is best to keep these unplugged and turned off when not using - this will not only help keep your home cool but will also save you some money," adds Chance. 

Create a DIY air conditioner

Putting ice into a bowl in front of a fan will blow cold air throughout the room bringing the temperature down. "Another great trick is using an ice water bottle and popping it into your bed to keep it cool," Chance adds. 

"Alternatively change your bedsheets to cotton or linen, as this can help lower your body temperature as the material breathes more easily."

Sleep downstairs

Time to wheel out your school science knowledge and remember that heat rises, so it makes sense to stay downstairs.

"Heat rises throughout the home during the day, by the evening your bedrooms upstairs can become rather unpleasant, you could try sleeping downstairs if you are really struggling, or even try moving your mattress onto the floor," Chance adds. 

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