By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – With excessive heat warnings sweeping over the United States’ upper Midwest and parts of the Mid-Atlantic over the weekend, and forecasts of another heatwave in many parts of Europe in the week ahead, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) has released a set of guidelines for cities to prepare.
“Heatwaves are deadly and their impacts are on the rise globally due to climate change,” says Francesco Rocca, President of IFRC.
Among the tips given by the guideline to city administrators are predicting when the heat wave will affect your area, preparing for possible power outages, letting people know about the higher temperatures, preparing health agents to deal with heat-related emergencies and setting up cooling centers so that residents without air conditioning can cool off.
Advice for individuals facing extremely high temperatures include create a buddy-system where people check on each other on a regular basis, eat smaller, lighter meals more frequently, ingest more water or liquids, postpone outdoor activities and keep an eye out for pet dehydration.
According to climate researchers the hottest summers in Europe in the last 500 years have all occurred in the last two decades. According to the IFRC the 2003 European heatwave killed more than 70,000 people.
The Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) has forecasted the highest threat level for forest fires for almost all of France and Spain on Thursday (July 25th), with “high” or “very high” threat levels for much of Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Germany.
Last week France’s SNCF railway company announced that its TGV trains (high-speed intercity train service) would be delayed due to the heat deforming railtracks, which reduces the speed of the trains.
In the United States, summers along the Eastern seaboard with temperatures climbing to the lows 100s Fahrenheit are not as uncommon as they used to be. Between 1999-2010, more than 7,400 people died from heat-related causes, an average of about 618 per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program since the 1960s the average number of heat waves in fifty major American cities has tripled and cities, like Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC have exceedingly resorted to opening up cooling centers during summer months for tourists and those without air conditioning in their own homes.
“As many as five billion people live in areas of the world where heatwaves can be forecast before they happen, which means we have time to take early action to save lives. Cities are on the front lines of this public health emergency and are thus crucial in leading the fight to prevent unnecessary deaths from heat,” notes Rocca.
“Heat can be a silent killer because it doesn’t topple trees or rip roofs off houses like tornadoes and hurricanes,” agrees Eli Jacks, chief of fire and public weather services with NOAA’s National Weather Service.
According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program the tendency is that deaths related to heatwaves will continue to rise. “With continued warming, cold-related deaths are projected to decrease and heat-related deaths are projected to increase,” warns the entity.