What Happens During a Heat Wave?

"It feels like a hot fart outside all the time" GIF describing how heatwaves feel

Yes, it feels like you’re living in a hot fart, but let’s dig into the details. First and most obvious: temperatures are high. Lower tier individual effects include sweating through your shirt, burning your hands on a hot steering wheel, empathizing with microwaved burritos, and other mild inconveniences.

Higher tier individual effects include heat stroke, which can lead to hospitalization and/or death. Heat illness is a considerable threat, particularly to children, the elderly, those with health concerns, and people with insufficient access to protective resources. That means a huge portion of the population faces a significant health risk during a heat wave. It bears repeating: heat waves cause more deaths in the United States than all other weather-related disasters.

This sun/atmosphere conspiracy packs a double whammy: the risk of heat-related illness is exacerbated by the strain high temperatures place on power systems. When more households crank up the AC, electrical grids that are unprepared for the increased usage may fail, leaving many with no power at all.

The good news is that our power systems are adapting to the more frequent heat waves that accompany our spiral toward unmitigated climate change. (Is that good news or bad news?) Complete grid shutdowns are less common these days due to energy mitigation strategies like rolling blackouts. Grid operators monitor energy usage and can take some systems offline on a temporary basis to help distribute the load to avoid power failures. This means you might experience short-term, temporary blackouts during heat waves (sometimes with a warning from the power provider, if you’re lucky), so it helps to be prepared. 

Higher tier community effects can include crop and infrastructure damage, which can make some heat waves more memorable than others. Heat waves can affect massive geographic areas for long stretches of time. A tornado, hurricane, or volcanic eruption usually comes and goes in a single day, but a heat wave can last for weeks. This makes them uniquely dangerous among weather-related phenomena.

If you don’t want to empathize with a microwaved burrito (or worse), it is time to prepare!

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Katherine Esperanza is a Los Angeles based writer. When she's not conjuring new queer slice-of-life short stories, she's busy watching the newest films, out at queer shows, supporting queer artists, or just checking out the queer community as a whole.

A former international non-profiteer, small business owner, and co-op'er, Katherine is delighted to help introduce more leftist politics into the disaster preparedness/prepper sphere, which is currently far too right-wing.