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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 06/ 6/2008

Heat and Power Outages: A Deadly Combination

By Capital Weather Gang

*Excessive Heat Watch Saturday morning through Monday afternoon*

Extreme heat kills hundreds of people in an average year -- more than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined according to NOAA. The best (and most obvious) way to prevent heat-related illness and/or death is to spend time in an air-conditioned environment. But doing that is a problem during power outages.

With many thousands of residents in the metro area still without power and near-record heat forecast this weekend, it could leave a lot of folks vulnerable to heat-related health problems unless power is quickly restored. To make matters worse, our first heat wave of the season follows a cool May so we are not yet acclimatized to hot weather. Studies demonstrate many more people die during the first heat wave of the season compared to heat waves that follow.

If you don't have power, it's important to stay hydrated and spend some time in an air-conditioned environment. Go to a movie or a mall during the heat of the afternoon. If the District activates its heat emergency plan, it will open cooling centers. Check on loved ones to be sure they have ways to stay cool during the upcoming heat wave. Older adults (especially those living alone), the homeless, and the very young are most vulnerable to the effects of heat.

Resources: Tips to Stay Cool from the CDC | EPA on Extreme Heat

Washington Post: Area Works to Recover From Storm Damage

By Capital Weather Gang  | June 6, 2008; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Extreme Heat  
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Next: Eyewitness Recounts Apparent Tornado Sighting


I just had my power restored this morning. It was a couple of sticky nights but not as bad as I feared. I hope everyone's power is restored soon because it's going to be miserable without it.

Posted by: John | June 6, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I respectfully submit that the logic you describe is a fallacy. It is not necessarily that heat kills people. It is more likely that simply a CHANGE in a person's living environment produces problems. If someone lives in an artifically cool environment and then looses that effect due to a power failure, then they are more stressed as a result. In other words, not being acclimated is the problem. Think about it. There are billions of people living in the world with no access to air conditioning (many right here in the good old USA). So, where are no news reports about hundreds of people suddenly dying of heat as suggested in this article.

Posted by: 0nl00k3r | June 6, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

0nl00k3r -- Appreciate the comment, though I think you're kind of arguing over semantics here. Whether it's the heat on its own that kills, or if it's change in the person's living environment, the heat is still the trigger contributing to the change.

Posted by: Dan, Capital Weather Gang | June 6, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Hopefully this post makes it into the print edition, since if someone is reading it, then they probably already have power.

Posted by: JJ | June 6, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

See here for a Heat Index chart and a link to last season's hot chat on heat.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | June 6, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Just another suggestion for those w/o AC or w/o power on a good place to beat the heat - a library. Generally nice and cool and quiet, with plenty of books to read, and sometimes wi-fi access if you have a laptop. So, you can escape the heat of your powerless apartment AND read CapitalWeather at the same time :).

Posted by: Jim in Blacksburg | June 6, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse


Your post in my mind boils down to a "they didn't have A/C in the old days" post. And you do have a point. That said, your premise that people are panzified by A/C is off in my mind. There are several things to keep in mind.

First, urbanization. 95 degrees while sitting under a big live oak with a nice breeze and a cold glass of lemonade on a farm in Texas is very different from 95 degrees in Hells Kitchen in New York City. The density of the buildings blocks wind, the pavement gets searing, and the whole place in general becomes an oven. Further, temps on "the farm" will drop significantly overnight, providing the body a needed break, which temps in the city may well stay stifling. Many experts say the worst killer in heat wave is not record highs, but warm overnight lows. The body can deal with heat if it has a break, but when there is no break, just continued stress at night, combined with inability to sleep due to the warmth, and health problems can come quickly. Put simply, the "urban heat island" effect has made heat waves much more deadly.

Second consideration is building styles. Modern buildings are designed to be efficient with use of modern heating and cooling systems. Many of those same features may actually make the building WORSE when such systems are down. Ventilation is often minimal.

Posted by: Jim in Blacksburg | June 6, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

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