What Are The Harmful Effects Of A Heat Wave?

Heat waves can negatively affect both the physical and mental well-being of the population in the affected area.

A period of excessively hot weather, often accompanied by high levels of humidity, can be referred to as a heat wave. However, the threshold levels of temperature used to define a heat wave vary with location. For example, temperatures that are considered to be normal in the hottest cities in the world might be termed as a heat wave in Canada where normal temperatures are far lower. Heat waves are one of the deadliest meteorological disasters as they have the potential to trigger the death of many people within a short time span. Here is a list of some of the detrimental effects of heat waves:

Power Outages Are Common During Heat Waves

It is normal for areas experiencing heat waves to have unusually high levels of electricity consumption. Air conditioners are kept on for long hours in both offices and homes in such areas. People usually avoid going outdoors and consume more electricity by staying indoors. The sudden spike in electricity consumption challenges the available electricity supplies of the area. This means that power outages are common during this time as the power lines are unable to meet the high demands of the people. Power outages were very common during the 2006 North American heat wave. During this time, thousands of offices and homes in California were left without power for several days. Similar situations happened in Australia during the 2009 South Eastern Australia Heat Wave when nearly half a million people in the country had to stay for days without power. The heat wave had overloaded the power grid and blown up transformers in the affected area leading to such consequences.

Heat Waves Can Trigger Devastating Wildfires

When a heat wave is accompanied by an episode of drought that dries out the vegetation, it creates the ideal environment for the break-out of a wildfire or a bushfire. Once such a fire starts, it is extremely difficult to put it out. Such fires often wipe out entire forests or farmlands and kill all flora and fauna inhabiting the region. One of the worst wildfires in recent times happened in Portugal during the 2003 heat wave in Europe. Fires destroyed more than 3,010 square kilometers of forest and over 440 square kilometers of farmland in the country.

Heat Waves Can Cause Infrastructural Damage

As heat causes metals to expand, heat waves can lead to major infrastructural defects. Power transformers can detonate causing fires. Water lines can burst to cause the loss of water and water shortage. Heat waves can also induce the kinking or buckling of railroads. Highways can melt or develop cracks in extreme heat. For example, two traffic lanes in Oklahoma City, US, had to be closed during the 2006 North American heat wave after they buckled under the heat. Blackouts resulted during this event due to damaged power transformers.

Heat Waves Can Kill People

Heat and humidity prevalent during heat waves can cause physical harm to people in affected areas. Heat exhaustion is common during this time which involves the depletion of electrolytes in the body and excessive dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration include nausea, dizziness, headache, diarrhea, malaise, etc. Heat exhaustion often precedes a heat stroke or hyperthermia which can be lethal in nature. Usually, children, the elderly, the overweight, and the sick are more susceptible to heat stroke than others. Heat-related deaths are common in most parts of the world experiencing heat waves. For example, the 1995 Chicago heat wave claimed the lives of nearly 739 people in the city.

Heat Waves Have Adverse Effects On Mental Health

Research has revealed that exposure to high temperatures over a sustained period of time can have a negative impact on the psychology of a person. It can induce psychological stress to an extent that affects the performance of the person. It has also been observed that crime rates go up when the temperature rises. Also, higher temperatures lead to lesser income as people are unable to devote sufficient time to work due to the heat-associated stress. Thus, heat waves are highly detrimental to the well-being of a society.

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