urban heat waves

It’s getting hot in here – 10 tips-survival guide to heat waves

Currently, it is winter in Germany, which means low temperatures, lots of rain, sometimes snow and only a glance of sunlight. So, I thought why not write about heat waves and add a bit a snow digitally, so that everyone could cool down whilst reading about 40°C and higher. Enjoy!

Urban areas experience more frequent and severe heat waves. This is fact, not fiction.

  • Perth, Australia – February 2016, four days with temperatures over 40°C in a row, which set a new record placing the same timeframe in 1933.
  • India – May and June 2015, with 44°C to 48°C it was the heat wave with the highest recorded temperatures since 1995.
  • Europe – August 2003, with temperatures around 40°C and over,  thousands of thousands of people – mostly elderly – died.

Urban heat waves are a phenomenon that is magnified by the urban heat island effect through which urban areas have significantly higher temperatures as compared to their rural surroundings. Additionally global warming increases the frequency of occurrence. Extreme heat threatens the health of inhabitants as well as the energy supply and increases air pollution. Especially the urban poor, elderly, very young and minority groups are at greater risk to suffer most during a heat wave. However, heat strokes, exhaustion or syncopes are typical health reactions during heat waves. (Bicknell et al. 2009, NASA 2009, IPCC 2013)

What to do?

10 tips for humans experiencing a heat wave

  1. Water and Salt: drink as much as you can get. If you do not like to drink water in buckets, switch to juices. Balance your increased amount of sweat with extra salt.
  2. Shadow: find something that provides shadow, take it with you when you go. If you are on the move, find a hat or an umbrella in order to protect at least your head from the sun. The ideal alternative would be to stay indoors…
  3. Urban greenery and water bodies: find some tree and stick to it. Seriously, urban greenery will be highly competitive during a heat wave, since it has proven itself to have a cooling effect. If possible get a tent and sleep in a park or next to the sea side. Camping is great and it will cool you down.
  4. Take it serious: Living, working, even sleeping during extreme heat is a battle. You do not wanna mess around with heat. It is a severe threat to our health – despite age, gender or health condition. So, get you survival instincts back on track and put your ego aside. Heat causes deaths. For example during the 2003 European heat wave, 35.000/ 70.000 people lost their lives. huge catastrophe
  5. Adapt your living space to the extreme conditions: think about when to open a window or when to close the curtains, planning ahead can make the deal here. also try at least not to overuse your air condition if you have one (see next point).
  6. Save energy: we all tend to enjoy air conditioning if it is too hot outside, but during a heat the power grid often is extremely overused   which will lead to energy black-outs. So, with the words of Aretha Franklin: you better think.
  7. Do not exercise as normal: sport is great and usually good for one’s health, but during temperatures exceeding a certain threshold a human body is not resilient enough to make extra efforts or heat stress.
  8. Do not work outside: this goes to all construction workers, gardeners and all others that have to work outside. Talk to your boss and customers about the risk of being exposed to the heat all day whilst heavily working. Fingers-crossed that you’ll get some days off!
  9. Do not drive: the smog cars and other vehicles produce significant contribute to air pollution, which is already worsened by extrem heat conditions. Try at least car sharing or use public transport, a bicycle or your feet. In another post I wrote about car-free cities.
  10. Sharing is caring: spread the word about heat waves and the adverse risk they entail. Also share water and shadow.

I hope these tips are of good help for you. Heat waves are very likely to increase in all land areas around the globe until 2050. Be prepared.

About the author


Hi there, I am Jo. Currently, I am a blogger and student, based in London, UK. Living in urban settings with a passion for sustainability inspired me to create this blog. Here, I want to capture and share some of my urban explorations, experiences and thoughts. Feel free to click around, give feedback, share the blog or connect with me. Cheers!

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