How to prepare for the next extreme heat wave now

So prepare now for the next extreme heat wave

Credit: Zach Christensen/Northeastern University

Summer is over, but memories of the season’s historic heatwaves are burned into our minds.

Before the next heat shock comes – next week? Next year? – Consider these strategies from Northeastern professors on projects you need to tackle now and supplies you need on hand to stay cool and keep you and your loved ones safe.

While climatologists say extreme heatwaves could be here to stay, as US Today reports, the experts are also detailing collective and regulatory measures to relieve the grid and keep air conditioning running.

Control your albedo, paint it white

People in hot climates know that painting their homes white keeps them cooler inside.

That’s because the color white has high levels of albedo, a term used to describe the Sun’s reflectivity, says Eugene Smotkin, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the Northeast.

Snow and ice also have a high albedo, while black tarmac has a low albedo — one reason news reporters like to boil an egg on roads during heat waves, Smotkin says.

Ways to control albedo include replacing dark stone with white clamshell driveways or painting driveways and roofs white, Smotkin says.

If time and money are of the essence, you can do what he used to do with a too-sunny lab window in the Hurtighalle: cover the east-facing window with aluminum foil, the shiny side out.

“I was able to solve a problem quickly,” says Smotkin.

It works most effectively with the aluminum placed outside the window, he says.

Using reflective material inside the building allows too much light to enter and dissipate into the building, so curtains and blinds help a little but not much, Smotkin says.

High-rise occupants and others who cannot access the outside of windows may use reflective material, such as B. Use cardboard-backed aluminum in the windows to dissipate heat.

To maximize cooling, insulate the inside of the aluminum foil window with an appropriate product on hand, Smotkin says. He lined the inside of his lab window with bubble wrap until the air conditioning upgraded.

Think like MacGyver

“I’m not saying to live like that,” says Smotkin. But during brownouts and blackouts, a little MacGyvering can go a long way.

For those less willing to settle and are willing to spend the money, “there’s such a thing as insulation wrap,” says Smotkin. “Nothing beats this when you put it outside or inside shiny side out.”

More permanent solutions — like the aluminum foil-covered roof that tops his home in Puerto Rico — are commercially available and aesthetically pleasing.

Hurricane shutters, which are usually painted white, also keep out sunlight, Smotkin says.

He also recommends everyone do the same and set up a room in their house or apartment as a “safe room” where all doors and windows are blocked and the air conditioner only needs to cool a small area.

When the power is completely cut off, Smotkin uses what he calls a “swamp cooler” to cool the small room. In emergencies, the battery-powered device is “extremely effective,” he says.

There are many websites and YouTube sites online that show how to build what is known as an evaporative cooler.

Smotkin says that air blowing on a water-saturated cooling pad in a five-gallon bucket drilled with holes can cool the air coming out of the pump to less than 70 degrees.

People can replace the cooling pad with a towel, he says. A 12-volt battery, an aquarium pump, a five-gallon bucket with holes drilled halfway up the side, a fan, and water make up the rest of the homemade cooler.

“This is so easy to build,” he says. “You will cool down your safe zone.”

People can also use 12-volt vehicle batteries to power the cooler, Smotkin says. “Don’t be too proud technologically.”

He says he’d like to see people deliver the coolers to elderly residents during heat waves.

And on a societal level, Smotkin says it’s time to control our albedo by devising plans to make surfaces around cities more reflective and less absorptive of radiant energy.

“If the city distributed insulating sheeting, you could probably reduce the voltage drops,” says Smotkin.

“It’s probably expensive,” he continues. “But if demand increased, prices would go down. Surely you’d save a few lives by distributing to the elderly and getting young Northeast students installed.”

Don’t forget about preservation

Day-to-day conservation efforts become a lot to overlook, says Stephen Flynn, founding director of the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern.

“We don’t routinely do this,” he says. “Preservation measures are touted as emergency measures.”

In the case of California’s record-breaking September heatwave, public collaboration with conservation efforts prevented the power grid from being shut down during a potentially life-threatening event, particularly for the frail elderly and those with health conditions.

Conserving energy — and water — on a regular basis will ease the strain on infrastructure, says Flynn.

Speaking of infrastructure: It’s time for new rules, he says.

The Bay Area of ​​California is experimenting with decentralized alternative energy grids known as mesh networks, Flynn says.

The idea is to use sustainable energy sources such as solar energy locally and then feed the excess into the main grid for further distribution.

Utilities and governments need to figure out how mesh network economics work, says Flynn. More alternative energy sources could mean fewer customers needing services from the larger utilities that need to remain economically viable to power California’s industry, he says.

The measures are necessary because more than 7,000 daily temperature records were broken this summer, according to the Washington Post. California’s capital Sacramento reached 116 degrees in September.

“The race is on to see if we can pull this off,” says Flynn.

To beat the summer heat, the passive cooling really works

Provided by Northeastern University

Citation: How to Prepare Now for the Next Extreme Heat Wave (2022, September 22) Retrieved September 22, 2022 from

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