Heat domes and you

Preparing in the midst of new PNW phenomenon

Dennis Beaman

Heat Domes or High Pressure Heat events can affect many places on earth, and recently, they have become a possibility for the people of the Pacific Northwest

In the summer of 2021, a potential event was anticipated in the Pacific Northwest.  Surface temperatures were far exceeding recorded records and the term “Unprecedented” was thrown around, sparking discussions of Climate change..

The reality is that the personal infrastructure of the Pacific Northwest was designed, assembled and certified for temperate climates.  Few homes have central air conditioning and access to shared cooling measures.  This places people that are not prepared at additional risk of heat-related illness and potentially fatalities. 

In the 2021 event, there were estimated to be over 1400 fatalities directly related to the event. These were largely preventable. This article is to provide assistance for the next thermal event that may be arriving.

If you receive word that a thermal event is incoming, we have some recommendations that may help you persevere and be in a place to provide assistance to others in the face of this event.

Should you, or someone that you’re caring for not have access to Air Conditioning, please study up on the signs of heatstroke and heat stress. They can be subtle, and often the affected may not be aware until the damage has been done.  

Heat as low as 115 degrees will begin to denature proteins in the brain, and cognitive impairment is one of the heralding signs of heat stress. There is a reason that a fever over 104 degrees warrants concern. I’ve heard people dying of heatstroke tell me they were perfectly fine. It’s one of the most frightening things about heatstroke.  

You may encounter people resistant to assistance. They may be disoriented, confused, or combative, and this is a frequent trauma for first responders. Often those that need help the most refuse help.  

So you’ve received word that a Heat event is forthcoming.  How do you prepare?  Let’s go through some options.

If you have AC, pre-cool what you can. It will cost energy and planning.  You can use methods to cool your structure and insulate for the high temp parts of the day.

If your space is not able to be pre-cooled, you may need to evacuate to a space that’s easier to protect from heat.  If you have access to a basement or underground space, that’s passively cooled, pack a bag or two, and go underground. You may be able to wait out the heat and go into hot places for a limited duration. Make sure to bring water and food that supplies proper nutrition.

In the case that underground access is not available, you will need to seek protection by other means. Ask yourself: Do you have a friend with proper climate control that is willing to share space for the duration of the thermal event?  Are heat shelters available in your community that you would be able to retreat to? Can you retreat to a shared space, like a mall, or a retail establishment for the duration?

You’ll want to pack a bag with required toiletries, as well as extra water and portable foodstuffs. Even a grocery may have enough climate control to provide respite to oppressive heat events. Slow walk the freezer isles. Read the ingredients. That may help recover your temperature. 

Can you escape the scope of the event?  Perhaps to a place not too far away that is outside of the heat event, such as the coast or the mountains. If this is your solution, you will not be alone. Bring as much of your groceries as you can travel with, as many of these destinations will not be stocked for the sudden shock of incoming people. Treat the locals that are in these locations with kindness, as you are a guest in their community.  Also note, if you plan to move during the event, unless your vehicle is properly current on maintenance, it may break down, leaving you exposed to the elements, and without protection.

Fortunately, these events can be somewhat predicted several days in advance. You should plan at a minimum, of two options to protect yourself, and those you love. Be prepared, as these may become more commonplace as the climate continues to change. 

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