Scorching Summer Heatwaves: Explained

Massive heatwaves have hit all but two of Earth’s continents. Luckily for the penguins, it’s still cold in Antarctica. But, not as cold as it used to be. The levels of sea ice are the eighth-smallest they’ve been since records began in 1979. The arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and sea ice levels there are the fourth smallest on record. Warmer temperatures in these regions are adding to the continued presence of hot, dry weather across the world.

The polar jet stream, which pushes air and weather currents around the northern hemisphere, is being weakened by warm air coming from the arctic. Typically, warm air from the equator collides with cold air from the arctic powering the jet stream and pushing along heatwaves and cold fronts. The smaller the difference in temperature, the weaker the jet stream and the slower it travels. This results in heatwaves that linger, rather than moving on. The  computer generated-image from NASA (below) shows the path of the polar jet stream. Red lines indicate fast-moving currents and blue lines represent slow-moving ones.

The heatwaves have been so prevalent that 2018 is currently on track to become the fourth-hottest year on record. The top five hottest years have all occurred since 2010, with 2016 in first, 2015 in second, 2014 in third and 2010 in fifth place, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. If 2018 doesn’t end up making the list, fifth place would go to 2013 and 2010 would remain in fourth. The bottom line is that temperatures are on the rise and have been breaking records for nearly a decade.

Conditions Leave Areas Vulnerable to Wildfires

Hotter days are drying out ecosystems all over the world, creating a high risk of wildfires in many places. In the United States, 14 states have reported large wildfires for a total of 93 active fires as of today. Over 4.7 million acres have been scorched. Thousands of building have been destroyed, several individuals have died, hundreds of people have sought medical attention for fire-related injuries, and thousands have been evacuated from their homes. The following table shows the number of fires per state. (Source: National Interagency Fire Center)

European Fires in 2018

Meanwhile, at least five European countries are battling wildfires of their own.

In Greece, over 90 people have perished from fires just outside Athens. “Serious indications” of arson were reported by investigators of the fires. It seems many fires were started simultaneously in forested areas on July 23. Fueled by high-speed winds, the fires quickly raged out of control.

In Sweden about 62,000 acres have been burnt by 40 wildfires that are spreading across the country. At least a few of the fires were caused by lightning strikes in areas that were drier than usual from the heat.

In Finland firefighters are attempting to contain several fires while the risk of more on the way rises.

In Norway several wildfires across the country began in May and although the fires are now contained, one firefighter lost their life due to injuries sustained while trying to extinguish the blaze in mid-July.

In Latvia more than 1,600 acres have burnt from fires beginning July 17.

Airmen from the Washington Air National Guard fight the Sheep Creek fire Aug. 6, 2018, near Northport, Wash. Washington Army and Air National Guardsmen made up 102 of the 350 personnel assigned to fight the Sheep Creek fire. (Washington Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Tim Chacon)

How the Fires Start

Although lightning strikes and volcanic eruptions are responsible for starting some wildfires, 90 percent of wildfires in the United States are started by humans, according to the National Park Service. The top three causes are unattended campfires, burning of debris, cigarettes that have been discarded before being extinguished and arsonists. Other than the suspicion of an arsonist in Greece, there was also a man in California who was recently arrested and charged with nine counts of arson in Riverside County where several fires forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes and a mandatory evacuation order remains in effect for approximately 6,000 people. (Source)

Danger Doesn’t Disappear When the Fires Are Put Out

Wildfires change the composition of the land they have ravaged. In some cases, the location and severity of the fire lead to a build-up of loose debris and a lack of root systems to keep the soil in place. This means that the next rainstorm can bring a host of troubles to the region causing events like flooding, slope failure, debris flows, and rock falls. Precipitation is notoriously difficult to predict, especially over long periods of time, but summer won’t last forever.

Washington, DC, July 22, 2008 — A Red Cross “ready to go” preparedness kit showing the bag and it’s contents. Red Cross photograph

If you are in an area with a high risk of landslides, make sure you have an emergency evacuation plan in place in your home. Keep an emergency preparedness kit stocked and easily accessible. These kits can be purchased, many online stores offer packages for up to six people with additional options for pets. If you opt to create one yourself, be sure to include things like water, food, a battery powered radio, and a flashlight. Visit our DIY guide for tips on making your own emergency preparedness kit. You may also want to consider adding a few luxury items like a package of your favorite cookies, a card game, or a bottle of wine. If you must evacuate or you get stuck, chances are you’ll be glad for the pick-me-up. Just be sure to remain alert in case further action is required.

DIY: Emergency Preparedness Kit

Disaster can strike anywhere, any time. The type of disaster you’re most likely to face will vary across different regions. For example, maybe your region is more susceptible to tornados than earthquakes. Or, maybe you live in an area where tsunamis, wildfires or landslides are a risk. Regardless of what poses the greatest threat, being prepared in the face of a worst-case scenario can save your life and the lives of those you care about most. Whether you decide to purchase an emergency preparedness kit or build your own using these guidelines, being prepared is vital.

Getting Started

First, choose the storage option that is right for you. Some people choose to store their items in a large duffle bag, like the one from North Face pictured here:

Other people opt for a water-tight storage container, like the one from Bed, Bath and Beyond pictured here:

The duffle bag may make carrying easier while storage containers are less susceptible to contamination and damage during the disaster. Either way, make sure it’s large enough to fit everything you are going to include, but keep in mind that you must be able to lift and carry your kit rather easily.

Regardless of which style you decide to use, make sure it’s a dedicated emergency kit. Once your kit is packed, it should stay packed.

Image source:

What to Include:

Water: This is perhaps the most important thing on this list. Store one gallon of water per person, per day for drinking and sanitation. There are a few options for storing water, such as bottled or canned water, or filling clean and empty containers such as milk jugs or soda bottles with tap water.

Food: Pack enough food to last 72 hours. Canned food and non-perishable foods are essential in these scenarios. Cooking may or not be an option, so keep that in mind when selecting food items. (Source)

Radios: Include a battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA weather alert radio. These are important for getting comprehensive emergency and weather information and updates. Although the NOAA has an app you can download for your smartphone, in the event of cell-tower outages the information may be inaccessible.

Flashlight: Power-outages are common during emergencies. Pack a reliable flashlight but do not store it with batteries inside. Even when it’s turned off the batteries will continuously discharge. This rule applies to all battery-powered electronics.

Batteries: Keep plenty of extra batteries on hand for all devices. Make sure they are stored properly in a non-conductive container such as plastic, rubber or silicone.

Emergency whistle: If you are unable to move, use the whistle to call for help. Blow in sets of three with a slight pause in-between.

Dust mask

Moist towelettes: If you need to wash your hands use these or hand sanitizer. Save your water for drinking and cooking.

Toilet paper

Garbage bags with plastic ties: Dedicate a spot for relieving yourself. Set up a garbage bag and use it to do your business. Cat litter can be added to the bag to cut down on the smell. Always dispose of human waste properly. Check with your local guidelines for how to do this once the disaster has passed.

Tools: In emergency situations, household utilities like gas should be shut off. For this purpose, include an adjustable wrench and a utility knife with tools such as pliers and screwdrivers.

Manual can-opener

Local maps

Prescription medications

First aid-kit: This should include bandages, gauze, antibacterial ointment and non-prescription medications like pain relievers, anti-diarrheal medication, antacids and laxatives.

Cash: Credit card machines and ATMs may not be available in a disaster.

Important family documents: Copies of insurance policies, personal identification and bank records should be kept in the kit. Make sure documents are protected in a waterproof container within the kit.

Warm blankets: Include one for each person. Alternative options are sleeping bags or emergency blankets.

Complete change of clothing

Sturdy Shoes

Water disinfectant: If your water stores are lost, damaged, or contaminated, having a back-up plan is vital. Invest in a portable water filter like ones sold for use while backpacking or camping.

Fire extinguisher

Matches: Store in a waterproof container. Strike anywhere matches are best.

Feminine products

Personal hygiene products: Include toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and a hairbrush or comb. Avoid adding large or bulky items like shampoo, conditioner, and body wash as they require precious water.

Mess kit: Mess kits include compact pots and pans for light cooking as well as cooking utensils. Also include items like disposable cups, plates, and utensils for eating.

Paper towels

Paper and pencil: Pencils are more reliable and won’t run or smudge if the paper gets wet. Sharpen the pencil with your knife or include a small manual pencil sharpener.

Entertainment: No one wants to be stuck in one place for several days, but children are particularly susceptible to excruciating boredom. Keep them (and yourself) entertained by bringing compact games, puzzles and a few books.

Luxury items: A package of your favorite cookies or a bottle of wine could be just the thing you need to get your mind off an exceptionally trying day. Whatever you decide to include, be sure to remain alert in case further action is required.

Kit Storage

When choosing a location to store your emergency kit it’s important to keep a few things in mind: temperature, humidity, and accessibility. Water, canned foods, and batteries should be kept in a cool, dry place. If disaster strikes and you need to evacuate, you’ll need to be able to grab your kit and go. If it’s safer to stay put, you’ll still need to be able to get to your kit, so keep it somewhere it’s easy to get to. Dedicate one spot in your house for your kit and make sure everyone knows where it is. Create an evacuation plan with your family and set a meeting spot in case you are separated when disaster strikes.

Kit Maintenance

Fire extinguishers should be checked monthly by a member of your household. Annual checks should be done by a professional. Replacement is recommended every six years.

Check the charge of all power banks and batteries every three to six months. Recharge and replace items as needed.

Discard unused tap water and replace with fresh water every six months to prevent the growth of algae and bacteria. Bottled water can be kept for much longer if the seal remains intact, though you may still want to consider replacing the bottles once a year to avoid the water tasting funny. (Source)

As the needs of you and your family change, your kit should be updated to reflect those changes. Once a year, reevaluate what you’ve included in your kit. You may find it helpful to keep a list of all the items that are stored in your kit, so you don’t forget what you packed. If you had a child or got a new pet be sure to add items accordingly. Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but preparation can be the key to survival in the face of unexpected danger.

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It’s hot. In mid-July, the Portland area hit triple digits for the first time in 2018, and locals and visitors alike are searching for ways to deal with the heat wave. But it’s not just Portland; this summer brought a record-breaking streak of high temperatures to the entire Pacific Northwest, making the outdoors (and any […]


Scorching Summer Heatwaves: Explained

Massive heatwaves have hit all but two of Earth’s continents. Luckily for the penguins, it’s still cold in Antarctica. But, not as cold as it used to be. The levels of sea ice are the eighth-smallest they’ve been since records began in 1979. The arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the […]


DIY: Emergency Preparedness Kit

Disaster can strike anywhere, any time. The type of disaster you’re most likely to face will vary across different regions. For example, maybe your region is more susceptible to tornados than earthquakes. Or, maybe you live in an area where tsunamis, wildfires or landslides are a risk. Regardless of what poses the greatest threat, being […]


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