By Kellie Matack, USAG Bavaria Emergency Management
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — In the summer of 2003, Europe experienced temperatures 20 to 30 percent higher than the seasonal average. Extreme maximum temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius were recorded in July and continued into August. This extreme weather was the cause of an anti-cyclone that had firmly anchored itself over the western European land mass, resulting in the impediment of life-giving, rain-bearing depressions that usually enter the continent from the Atlantic Ocean. In the United Kingdom, temperatures rose to within 38.1 C, while France experienced 40 C, Switzerland at 41.5 C and Germany from 35 to 40 C.
What were the effects?
2003 was the year Europe experienced its highest death toll from natural hazards in the past 50 years and was one of the 10 deadliest natural disasters in Europe for the last 100 years.
This heat wave had deleterious effects. Not only did over 30,000 individuals perish, but the heat precipitated massive forest fires, a reduction in vegetation growth by 30 percent, and ultimately cost the continent an estimated $10 billion, with the global financial impact of drought and forest fires exceeding 13 billion euros. This estimation includes life insurance payments for heat wave and wildfire deaths; property damage and direct health costs, including hospital stays, clinic treatments and ambulance rides; livestock and crop damages; fire and timber losses; and hydroelectric power restrictions (wherein electricity prices rose above 100 euros per Megawatt hour).
When one thinks of disasters and the vulnerability of the loss of human life, heat is one of the last scenarios that typically comes to mind. With the Deutscher Wetterdienst, German Meteorological Service, anticipating temperatures to rise to as high as 40 degrees Celsius, lasting through the weekend of June 30, 2019, it is imperative that one prepare.
While the current forecast is not purporting the heatwave to last as long as in 2003, it is expected to be similar to that of 2018, where heat-related deaths in Germany increased by 10 percent, hospital admissions increased by 5 percent and the economic impact resulted in a reported loss of 5.2 billion euros.
Germany defines extreme heat as temperatures above 35°C.
How does one prepare for and respond to extreme heat? Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. Most heat-related illnesses or deaths occur because the victim has been overexposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition. Older adults, young children, and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat.
Before extreme heat
During a heat emergency
During high heat, the air temperature and other environmental factors are more severe, which greatly increases the risk of heat related illness. Cal/OSHA defines high heat when the air temperature is equal to or exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit. High heat can be worse in low-lying regions like valleys and depressions, where stagnant atmospheric conditions trap the lower layer of hot air preventing air circulation.
High heat may also be accompanied by high humidity. When there is high humidity, sweat does not readily evaporate off of the skin. This greatly slows the body’s natural processes of releasing heat to the surrounding environment causing the body to quickly overheat.
Radiant heat from the sun and other sources: The body may gain heat from radiant heat sources if the body is cooler than the radiant heat source and may lose heat if the body is hotter than the radiant heat source(s). Thus, providing shade helps the body to cool from radiant heat sources like the sun.
Conductive heat sources such as the ground: Since conduction is another way heat may be transferred to and from the body, being in contact with a hot surface such as sitting on the hot ground (or chair that has been sitting in the sun) during a rest break may limit the body’s ability to cool.
Air movement can also cause heat to be transferred to and from the body (i.e., convection). Air flowing past the body can cool the body only if the air temperature is cooler than about 95 F. If the temperature is hotter than 95 F, the body can gain heat by hot air flowing past the body. This is why the use of fans is not an effective cooling measuring when the air temperature is hotter than about 95 F.
Workload severity and duration
Strenuous work causes the body to heat up and is a major source of heat gain for the body. Therefore, employees performing strenuous work in the heat need more frequent breaks than other employees performing less strenuous work in the heat, all else being equal. If done correctly, acclimation can typically take five to seven days, but can also take weeks. Each individual acclimates at a different rate, as different variables are present.
During a heat wave, some cooling centers may be opened in order to reduce the effects of the extreme heat. If cooling centers are opened, personnel will be notified through their command, Garrison Public Affairs Office and AtHoc notifications.
The following are USAG Bavaria AC enabled facilities: