Preparing for Extreme Heat

Make sure you have an emergency plan and an emergency kit for everyone in your family. Be prepared by stocking up on extra fuel and food, and during an event stay tuned to radio and televisions stations for weather updates.

Extreme Heat

Extreme heat can put your health at risk, causing illnesses such as heat stroke or even death. Protecting yourself, your family, and other potentially vulnerable people in your life is essential.

It is important to stay safe during such extreme temperatures. Avoid working or intense exercising if it is very hot or humid outside, and head for cooler conditions if your body becomes overheated. If working outdoors is necessary, drink plenty of liquids and take frequent rest breaks. Be sure to maintain salt levels in your body and avoid high-protein foods. Pets also need to be protected from the heat, giving them plenty of water to drink. Watch for severe medical conditions, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat events in British Columbia are classified into two levels, a Heat Warning when conditions are very hot, and there is a moderate risk to public health, and an Extreme Heat Emergency when conditions are dangerously hot and have a very high risk to public health.

A level one Heat Warning occurs when two or more consecutive days in which daytime maximum temperatures are expected to reach or exceed regional temperature thresholds and nighttime minimum temperatures are expected to be above regional temperature thresholds, with a 5% increase in mortality. A day-night-day temperature of 29-16-29 degrees Celsius would be required.

A level two Extreme Heat Event (EHE) is also described as a heat wave or heat dome. A heat dome occurs when an area of high pressure stays over the same place for days or weeks, trapping hot air underneath. The definition of an extreme heat event varies based on many factors, including geographic location and weather conditions such as temperature, humidity and cloud cover, as well as the duration of the event. During this type of event, the temperature is much hotter than average for a particular time and place, with a 20% increase in mortality. This type of heat event happens once or twice per decade in the south island and requires level one temperature criteria to be met along with the forecast indicating daily highs will substantively increase day-over-day for three or more consecutive days.

A Heat Warning or an Extreme Heat Emergency will typically be identified three to four days before the hottest temperatures occur. Island Health, supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada, will distribute alerts when heat events are a moderate or high risk to the public's health.

How To Prepare

Know Your Risk 

The following people are especially at risk if they do not have access to air conditioning and they need to be prepared and supported:

  • 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 illnesses 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
  • people without a fan or air conditioning

Make A Plan  

Evaluate your home's cool zones

  • Some areas of your residence may stay cooler than others. During an Extreme Heat Emergency, you should prepare to stay in the coolest part of the residence and focus on keeping that one location cool. Start by identifying a room that's typically coolest and consider how you can modify the layout to support sleeping and day-to-day living for the duration of the heat event

Evaluate if you can stay home

  • If it is not safe for you to stay at home, consider staying with friends or family that have air conditioning or cooler spaces. Alternatively, identify places in your community you can visit.

Identify an Extreme Heat Buddy

  • If you live alone, find an extreme heat buddy to check in on you when it gets hot, and you can also reach out for help. Your buddy should be someone who can take you to cooling centres or help with cooling measures in your residence.

Take Action

If an Extreme Heat Emergency alert has been issued, it's time to put your plan into action.

  • Relocate to a cooler spot if you have planned to do so
  • Reconfigure the coolest location in your home so you can sleep there at night
  • Check in with your pre-identified heat buddy. If you don't have one, try to reach out to someone you trust as soon as possible
  • Put up external window covers to block the sun if you can safely do so
  • Close your curtains and blinds
  • Ensure digital thermometers have batteries
  • Make ice and prepare jugs of cool water
  • Keep doors and windows closed between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to trap more cool air inside. Open them at 8 p.m. to allow cooler air in, and use fans (including kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans) to move cooler air through the house

Staying Cool Inside

In homes without air conditioning, heat builds indoors over a few days. It may stay hotter inside than outside overnight. Without air conditioning, the longer the heat lasts, the more dangerous it becomes. Take the following steps to keep yourself and members of your household safe:

  • If you have air conditioning, turn it on. It does not need to be going full strength to help you stay safe
  • If you have air conditioning and vulnerable friends and family do not, bring them to your home
  • If you do not have air conditioning, move to your pre-identified alternate location with air conditioning or cooler spaces
  • Sleep in the coolest part of the residence. Outdoor temperatures are usually lower than indoor temperatures overnight, so consider sleeping outside if you can safely do so
  • Sleep with a wet sheet or in a wet shirt
  • Take cool baths or showers to draw heat from your body
  • Drink plenty of water, regardless of whether you feel thirsty. Be aware that sugary or alcoholic drinks cause dehydration
  • If you are taking medication or have a health condition, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it increases your health risk in the heat and follow their recommendation
  • If your doctor limits the amount you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot

Staying Cool Outside

Lower your activity level and avoid strenuous activity. If you must do errands or plan to exercise, do so early or late in the day when it is generally cooler.

  • Never leave children or pets in a parked car
  • Avoid direct sun by staying in the shade and wearing a hat and protective clothing
  • Use sunscreen and UV-protective eyewear
  • Seek cooler, breezier areas when outdoors, such as large parks near trees and water
  • If you work in a hot environment, discuss and act on ways to decrease heat exposure with your employer and coworkers

Keeping Pets Safe

"Our pets often depend on us to make those choices for them."

Pets are part of the family too. Make sure they have plenty of water and are with you in cool locations. When outside, stay in shady areas and avoid asphalt and pavement. Those surfaces can burn paws.

  • Pavement: If you regularly jog or bike with your dog, be conscious of when you're doing it. The pavement can get very hot for your pet's feet on a hot day.
  • Exercising: Choose to exercise with your dog earlier in the morning or later in the evening when it's cooler, reducing the chances of your pet getting heatstroke.
  • Outdoor excursions: When hiking, camping, or going to the beach, ensure you bring along a water bowl and water for your pet and an umbrella for shade. Use a towel to dry off your pet and give them a place to lie down that's not scorching hot.
  • Cool Down: Freeze favourite food or treats, such as Kongs or ice cubes with chicken broth, or try freezing a variety of toys and treats inside one big ice cube. Invest in a kiddie pool for your pup and fill it with cool water for your furry friend to enjoy and play in.
  • Is your pet ok? Ensure your pet is having a good time outside in the heat and can get out of the sun in a nice shaded area.
  • Pets in cars: If you go out in the car, leave your pet at home rather than in a hot vehicle, where it can take as little as 10 minutes for a pet to suffer irreparable brain damage or even death

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Illness

Conduct a heat informed wellness check for signs and symptoms of heat illness.

  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid breathing or heart rate
  • Extreme Thirst
  • Dark urine and decreased urination

*If you experience any of these symptoms during extreme heat, immediately move to a cool place and drink liquids; water is best.

Heat Stroke

  • High body temperature
  • Confusion and lack of coordination
  • Dizziness/fainting
  • No sweating but very hot red skin

Heat stroke is a medical emergency! Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. While waiting for help, cool the person right away by:

  • Moving them to a cool place, if you can
  • Applying cold water to large areas of the skin
  • Fanning the person as much as possible

Additional Resources

Additional Resources

To stay up to with Weather Conditions in the Capital Region by visiting Environment Canada: Public Weather Alerts for British Columbia.

Download the WeatherCAN App to receive weather alert notifications in your area, with 24-hour detailed forecasts, access to radar animation and more. Visit WeatherCan: Canada's Official Weather Source for more information.

Visit Drive BC for information about road and weather conditions before you travel or call toll-free 1.800.550.4997 24-hours a day for BC road information.