Extreme heat and heat warnings

BC is experiencing higher annual summer temperatures and more extremely hot days due to climate change.

Because of this, there’s an increased likelihood of more extreme heat events like the 2021 heat dome. This is why it’s critical for people to understand the risk, prepare for hotter conditions, and know where to access support.

What is extreme heat?

Extreme heat or an Extreme Heat Emergency is when temperatures are well above seasonal averages and continue to get hotter each day.

Extreme heat is dangerous for the health and wellbeing of our communities and is responsible for the highest number of weather-related deaths annually.

What’s the difference between a Heat Warning and an Extreme Heat Emergency?

Alert: Threat: Action:
Heat Warning Daytime and overnight temperatures are higher than seasonal norms and holding steady. Take your usual steps to stay cool.
Extreme Heat Emergency Daytime and overnight temperatures are higher than seasonal norms and getting hotter every day. Activate your emergency plan. Connect with people in your life who may be at risk or on their own.

Be prepared for extreme heat

Before the summer begins, start to plan for hotter days. There are many steps you and your family can take to help mitigate the effects of extreme heat.

Identify those most at risk

Preparing for extreme heat is beneficial to everyone; however, there are some groups of people who may be more at-risk than others. These can include:

  • Seniors aged 65 years or older
  • People who live alone
  • People with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or respiratory disease
  • People with mental illness such as schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety
  • People with substance use disorders
  • People who are marginally housed
  • People who work in hot environments
  • People who are pregnant
  • Infants and young children
  • People with limited mobility

Make plans to deal with extreme heat

If you know someone who may be at risk (as identified by the list above), be sure to check in with them and set a plan for when temperatures are high. It’s important to come together as a community and to look out for those who are at greatest risk.

If you live in a building or residence without access to air conditioning that gets very hot (with sustained internal temperatures of 31 degrees or higher), plan to go somewhere else during an Extreme Heat Emergency.

Some places within your community may offer space for people to cool down and get relief from extreme heat. These locations will vary depending on the community you live in, so be sure to check in with them before the weather gets too hot. Here are some potential options to consider:

  • Libraries
  • Community centres
  • Shopping malls
  • Movie theaters
  • Religious centres
  • Parks and other shaded green spaces

Prepare your home for extreme heat

There are modifications you can make to your home to help prepare for an Extreme Heat Emergency. While everyone’s needs will be different, these small changes can help to reduce your home’s internal temperature.

Indoors:

  • If you can, install a window mounted air conditioner
  • Use thermal curtains or window coverings
  • Have fans available to help move cooler air around your home. It is important to remember, however, that fans can’t effectively reduce body temperatures or prevent heat-related illness in people at risk. Do not rely on fans as your primary cooling method during an Extreme Heat Emergency.

Outdoors:

  • If you can, install exterior covers or reflective films on your windows. No fancy supplies are needed, this can be as simple as using cardboard on the outside of your windows.

Remember that heat stroke is an emergency. Overheating can be harmful to your health and potentially deadly. If you’re experiencing symptoms, such as rapid breathing and heartbeat, extreme thirst, and decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine, take immediate steps to cool down and seek emergency care.

  • Get medical attention or call 911
  • Submerge yourself or the person you’re helping in cool water
  • Remove clothes and apply wet cloths

Stay connected

As temperatures rise throughout the summer months, make sure you stay connected to reliable information sources like Environment Canada, Emergency Info BC, First Nations Health Authority, and Northern Health. Staying connected with these sources means you will have up-to-date information about heat warnings and extreme heat emergencies.

For more tips and information, visit the Government of British Columbia website.

Additional resources