It would appear that the northwestern US is dealing with some of the early effects of climate change otherwise known as “really weird weather” or “record weather”. As it currently being demonstrated, the problem is not so much 105F temperatures, after all, down here in bay area, we have 105F temperatures on a regular basis, rather the problem is being completely unprepared for it(*).

As the NW US usually doesn’t see 105F, the stores do not stock AC units or fans, the people do not own the right clothes, and they do not have the correct habits, and so they suffer. The problem in nature is just as great. The species living there are unable to cope if the heat persists and so they die. This is the reason for the prediction of the estimated extinction of 40% of all species by the end of the 21st century under the postpone action/business as usual scenario.

(*) Other things to be completely unprepared for include extended brown or blackouts, supply disruptions, water rationing, food runs, bank runs, and/or natural disasters. If you want a real test of how well prepared you are, go out and kill the main breaker after you are done reading this. Switch it back on on Sunday. Or try not buying any groceries for two weeks.

Now, I experienced “weird weather” on a first hand basis during the European heat wave in 2003. This was 100F weather at close to 100% humidity with thunderstorms every 2-3 days. Let’s just say it wasn’t a nice experience(*) (the estimate for “overdeath” due to heat exhaustion, especially among the weaker [older] part of the population, run the in the thousands). Again, this happened in an area that never had to deal with it and so homes did not have AC, the stores did not stock AC, people didn’t have the right clothes or the right habits.

(*) After about a month of it, one really starts going nuts. Initially you think it’s just going to last for a week or so and then things will return to normal. After two weeks, you think it’s been going on for a while and it can’t possible go on for another day. After three weeks, you start doubting yourself. After four weeks, nuts!

Here’s what I did back then …

  • I changed my schedule. Temperatures only returned to bearable at 4am in the morning. My unairconditioned room had a metal blinder and pointed directly to the south. It was essentially like an oven. I thus went to bed at 2am or 3am and slept without covers. (You get used to it.) Around 10am, the heat would wake me up. Sometime I would take a shower before going to bed and not dry off completely. The evaporation would act as a cooling factor.
  • I did not have an electric fan. If you can get one before they sell out, get one. Be prepared. It will make your life a lot more comfortable if you’re good at sweating (see point below).
  • During the day I would put water on my face and use a stack of paper to fan it or walk fast. Evaporation again. If you can find a hand fan, get it. Use it. If you can find an electric fan, have it point at you at all times. Oscillation feels much less comfortable because the apparent temperature goes up and down every few seconds.
  • I would hang around the freezer section of the supermarket a lot more. 15 minutes of relief a day. The basement, where I did my laundry was also a cool place.
  • Sometimes lying closer to the floor helps.
  • I bought some sweat transporting clothes. The natural choice is silk. There are many artificial fiber choices. Most common wardrobe material, jeans, polyester, … really bad; though I don’t think you need anyone to tell you that.
  • Eat less. You’ll probably find yourself losing your appetite anyway, but the body generates large amounts of heat processing the food you eat. If you ever wanted to do a fast, now is a pretty good time. Also cut back on cooked food. Eat more salad. Eat light.
  • Drinking warm liquids like tea (and coffee) can change your perception of temperature — they might work for you. Beyond that, naturally, drink lots of water.
  • This is something you should have done in advance, but if you are not overweight (carry extra insulation), you will have a much better time. Bonus: If you’re used to exercising in significant heat, your sweat glands will be superior to those exercising in ac’ed environments. This difference is HUGE!
  • If you have to work outside, start very early, like 3 or 4am.

If you are dealing with unusual cold, you should do pretty much the opposite.

Originally posted 2009-07-29 23:20:26.