Sunday, September 26, 2010

How It Works: Heatwaves

Have you ever heard a broadcast on the radio telling you to stay indoors due to hot weather? I know I have. Many times in fact. In Portugal, as in many other Mediterranean nations, dry heat waves are common place in the summer and even early autumn. Most of times however we enjoy a cool breeze from the Atlantic ocean that sooths the temperature into the low 20's. An optimum climate to survive and to thrive. It took many years to adapt to such a climate since Poland's temperatures rarely go above the 30's in the summer. In the winter let's just say its pretty unlivable to my new standards. In accordance to the MET Office (UK meteorology center) a heat wave that is above the high average in any country can not only cause damage to a health's population, but also on business and infrastructure. There does not seem to be any descriptions on how exactly this happens but I expect that it has to do with the amount of power used for air conditioning.

In scientific terms, heat waves are caused by a system of higher atmospheric pressure, where air from upper levels of the atmosphere descends and rotates out. The outward flow, meanwhile, makes it difficult for other systems such as rain and snow to enter the area. The lack of clouds means that the place is stuck with strong sunlight all day. For example in Yuma, Arizona the area enjoys a whopping 4,300 hours of sunlight per year. If a year has 8,765 hours, give or take a few hours, that's almost half the year. Now that's what I call a sunny place.
"A heat wave is a period of unusually hot or humid weather that lasts at least two or three days"

The effects that this type of climate has on the human body is quite astounding. At 35ºC heart rate and sweating increase exponentially as does water and salt loss. At 40ºC the body starts feeling tired and nauseous. And last but not least, 45ºC. This is where the real dangers are getting quite obvious. Fainting, organ damage and even death is possible.

The MET office has, however, put in place some measures to prevent these severe health problems from occurring. A heat health watch warning system has been put in place for such occurrences. Let's just hope that this extends to more volatile countries rather than just the United Kingdom.