By Cathy Dellosa-Ng
We’ve all felt it—the melting heat bearing down on us as our sweat gushes out like there’s no tomorrow. The Manila heat is nothing to be happy about, but we’re not the only ones simmering under the sweltering sun. The series of heatwaves around the world is proof that El Niño is on full blast, and that the unrelenting temperature won’t spare anyone.
El Niño around the world
El Niño happens when the equatorial Pacific waters that are located between South America and Australia become hotter than an above average SST (or sea surface temperature) of 0.5° C for three whole months consecutively. Now that our El Niño has gained enough steam to be called “Godzilla” and “Bruce Lee”, then we’re pretty sure we’re in for a sweltering ride.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the global heat wave is breaking records all over the world. This June was the hottest for the past 136 years, and it’s not just because of climate change. You can blame the greenhouse gasses and the rising sea levels for the increase in temperatures across the globe. “Climate change is a long-term driver, so that’s like standing on an escalator as it goes up, [whereas] El Niño is like jumping up and down while you’re on that escalator,” says Deke Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).
As for heatwaves, these happen when temperatures rise to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above for three consecutive days. In New York, four days of intense heat in August caused prices for power to spike up as citizens desperately find ways to keep cool. In Montreal, the heat goes on well into the night. “Maybe what’s unusual is to have a real heat wave in mid-August,” says René Héroux from Environment Canada. “In July, it’s pretty normal but we had to wait until now to get a real heat wave.”
The heat is not only uncomfortable, but in extreme cases, it can be downright deadly. Due to the scorching heat, the death toll in Egypt has risen to 106 people. In Sudan, the heatwave has already taken 15 lives, while a whopping 2,300 people have died across India.
How to deal with the heat
Our natural sweat keeps us cool when it evaporates into the air. However, this cooling effect may not always be as effective, especially when the air is humid and unable to absorb skin moisture. “About 80 percent of heat loss (in warm weather) is through evaporation of sweat. If you take a walk on a really hot day with a dog you’ll notice that they get tired very quickly and get very unhappy with the thought of doing anything. That’s because they can’t sweat and you can. Their bodies are telling them, ‘keep this up and you’ll cook’. And they are right,” says climatologist Matthew Huber from the University of New Hampshire. “We’re lucky because normally we can sweat away most of our heat, that’s why people can run marathons in Death Valley. On the other hand, if humidity is high, our ability to evaporatively cool is minimized.”
When this happens, we need to turn to other ways to keep ourselves cool. The rising heat can raise our body’s internal temperature to the point where our heart starts to beat faster, and then heat exhaustion comes. We’ll start to feel dizzy and light-headed, and when we reach our peak, our bodies go in shock. This heat stroke causes our heat-loss mechanisms to stop, and we may even get infected when dangerous toxins leak into our blood.
This is why when you are at home, it’s best to reduce heat by waiting until it’s cooler at night before running ovens, dryers, washing machines, and dishwashers. When you’re working outside, look for shade, take breaks, and drink more water. Elderly people and little babies should stay away from the sun and remain indoors. And when the heat is too much, create artificial sweat by dousing your head with water. You might get a little wet, but you’ll simulate the cooling effect that your sweat does.
Here are a few more ways to cope with the unforgiving weather:
- When working under extreme conditions and excessive heat, adopt a buddy system where you can take turns being directly under the sun.
- Whenever possible, stay indoors and slow down. Try to limit strenuous activities during the day, especially at noon when the sun is at its highest.
- If you are inside a building and there is no air conditioning available, head down to the lowest floor and stay out of the sunshine.
- Don’t ever leave kids or pets alone in closed vehicles out in the sun.
- If you must drink alcohol, at the very least, keep the intake to a minimum. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks as well.
- Even if you don’t feel particularly thirsty, drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.
- Stick to smaller meals, and eat more frequently throughout the day.
- Wherever you go, opt for clothes that have lighter colors. Keep your outfits lightweight and loose-fitting.
- Always keep an eye on your pets. Make sure they’re not left out in the heat, and that they are safely resting under shady places. Keep filling those water bowls to make sure they are properly hydrated, too.
- To help treat sunburn, remove pore-blocking oils by showering with soap and water. These oils might prevent the body from naturally cooling, so bathe to keep your skin clean. Afterwards, apply sterile dressings to blisters if any, and go see a doctor.
- For heat exhaustion, lay the victim down on a cool place and loosen his clothing. Let the victim sip water slowly, giving about half a glass of cool water for every 15 minutes. If the victim becomes nauseated and vomits, seek medical attention immediately.
- If the victim becomes unconscious or suffers from shallow breathing and a rapid but weak pulse, this could be a fatal heat stroke and you need to call emergency medical services right away. Being prepared is the only way to stay cool, especially when the heat is on.