According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heat waves are the most deadly weather-related exposure in the United States. Temperatures that rise above 90 degrees for several days at a time actually cause more deaths annually than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.
Prolonged periods of extreme heat are especially dangerous to the elderly and to children. Often the elderly live alone in homes or apartments that are not air conditioned or do not have adequate ventilation. Those that live in cities are often also prone to keeping doors and windows tight shut, preventing any air circulation at all. With no one to check on them periodically, these seniors, who are often on medications, can become unaware of the fact that their bodies are unable to adjust to the extreme temperature change, resulting in dehydration and death.
Children are seldom aware that they are overheated when playing, however, the most dangerous aspect of heat and children is the fact that adults often expose them to dangerous conditions. Every year children die from being left in vehicles, or in areas outside where they are exposed to direct sun and heat.
Even those that are accustomed to outside activities can be affected by long term exposure to heat. Those that work or play outside on a daily basis are not immune from over heating, which can produce heat stroke or heat exhaustion. These conditions can occur gradually, but if left untreated can produce serious illness, complications or death. Pets, that may be accustomed to outdoor living and activities are also affected, and special care should be given toward providing them with shade and plenty of water.
Heat waves are also responsible for other inconveniences and illnesses. Power outages are common in many parts of the country when power stations become overloaded due to the use of air conditioning. When this happens, power may be out for several hours, or even days, and food that has been left unrefrigerated for any length of time can be dangerous. Even the vehicles that we rely on can be affected by the heat, and are most susceptible to overheating and engine damage.
Heat waves are also responsible for dry grass, brush, and timber, which can ultimately lead to wildfires. The lack of moisture, combined with hot dry winds produce a tinder box atmosphere that can be touched off by the smallest spark.
While everyone looks forward to the warmer season of the year, it is always a good idea to take extreme heat seriously. Using common sense, checking on the welfare of neighbors, and staying hydrated, can go a long way to preventing heat related tragedies.