While Canada may be best known for its long, cold winters, Canadians are increasingly experiencing extreme heat. Extreme heat events, often called “heat waves”, can have serious consequences on your health, causing illnesses like heat stroke, and even death. It is important to be prepared.
Extreme heat events involve high temperature and sometimes high humidly. To better predict these events and equip local health authorities with the right resources, Health Canada has been addressing heat-health since 2008. While mostly done behind the scenes, this work has been vital to Canadians.
Dealing with heatwaves
Scientists at Environment and Climate Change Canada predict that Canadians will see an increase in extreme heat days in the future. Health Canada’s Heat Division is dedicated to keeping Canadians safe and informed when temperatures rise. The Division focuses efforts and research around four pillars:
- The development and improvement of heat responses across Canada;
- Increasing public awareness of the impacts of heat on health and what people can do to protect themselves;
- Improving science to assess the risk of extreme heat to Canadians and how to respond; and,
- Supporting emergency preparedness.
Getting the word out about extreme heat
Health Canada’s Heat Division works in collaboration with the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) to help communities prepare for extreme heat and protect the health of Canadians by supporting the implementation of Heat Alert and Response Systems (HARS).
When extreme heat is imminent, designated officials determine if the community-specific heat alert triggers have been reached and whether risks to health warrant activation of the HARS. If an alert is issued, internal and external partners are notified through pre-set communication activities, the public is informed of heat health risks, and community response measures to assist heat-vulnerable people are activated.
HARS uses a range of approaches based on needs specific to a region. For example, in a high-density city like Toronto, tweets are posted on public health social media platforms to spread the message about extreme heat warnings. This may differ from more remote areas, where home visits or handing out flyers could be more effective.
“With any type of model there are always elements that can be improved; and the Government of Canada is committed to strengthening our current approach. Our team produces accurate and reliable information and we are continuing to identify the best ways to improve HARS based on scientific evidence,” says Heat Division Manager Dr. Shawn Donaldson.
Helping communities prevent the preventable
By the end of the 21st century, the number of days with temperatures rising above 30oC is expected to double in cities across Canada. The rising temperatures nationwide increase the risk of heat-related illnesses amongst our populations. Although extreme heat can affect everyone, older adults, young children and infants, people with chronic illnesses and people who work outdoors are most vulnerable to extreme heat.
During extreme heat events, the most important thing is to keep cool and stay hydrated. Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include dizziness or fainting, nausea, headaches, and extreme thirst. If you or someone you are caring for is displaying these symptoms, this may be caused by a heat-related illness.
The easiest way to avoid the negative impacts of extreme heat events is to plan ahead. Prepare for the heat and stay on top of the weather by checking your local forecasts and alerts so you know when to take extra care.
If you are interested in learning more about Health Canada’s Heat Division, and their recommendations for staying cool this summer, please visit: Extreme heat: heat waves