Preparing for Extreme Temperatures

Extreme heat and extreme cold both have the potential to cause illness and even death, especially for those at highest risk of impact. With climate change bringing more extreme fluctuations in weather, there are steps you can take to prepare for severe hot or cold temperatures.

Power Outages

While power outages can happen unexpectedly, preparation is key. A power outage could last a few hours to a few days, or longer.
Tips to stay safe

Extreme Heat

Defined by FEMA as a long period, at least two to three days, of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees, extreme heat can be more than uncomfortable – it can be deadly. It is often attributed as the highest annual number of deaths in the United States among all weather-related disasters and can happen anywhere across the country. 

During an extreme heat warning: 

  • Locate an air-conditioned space such as a shopping mall or public library. Stay there during the hottest period of the day, typically in the afternoon between 3-5 pm. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you return to the heat.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty, to prevent dehydration.
  • Watch for signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 
  • Do not use an electric fan when temperatures reach 95 degrees or higher. They lend a false sense of comfort due to creating air flow but not reducing body temperature and could increase your risk of heat-related illness. Instead, take a cool shower or bath to cool your body temperature down. 
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Avoid strenuous activities and pace yourself. 

If you are living with asthma, COPD or another chronic lung disease, the rising heat and humidity can make breathing more difficult. Environmental triggers, such as extreme heat, affect people with chronic lung disease differently, but here are a few tips to help protect your lungs:

  • Avoid the triggers you can control. Exposure to all types of smoke, fumes or cleaning products can add up. Consider slowing your pace or delaying hobbies, housekeeping or yardwork activities when your lungs are already working hard in the heat.
  • Follow your asthma or COPD action plan and communicate worsening symptoms to your healthcare provider.

Extreme Cold

Across the country, communities have their own benchmarks for how cold it typically gets. Extreme cold is generally considered to be below freezing or at least ten degrees colder than usual. These temperatures put people at risk of hypothermia or frostbite, which can occasionally lead to death.  

During an extreme cold warning:

  • Heat your home safely. Turning on your stove or oven for heat is not safe, nor is using a propane, gas or charcoal stove indoors. If you are running a generator, it should be located outside and at least 20 feet from windows, doors or vents. The fumes emitted from all these items can be deadly to breathe indoors.
  • Light your home safely. Battery powered flashlights or lanterns are safer, and better for your lungs, than candles.
  • Learn more tips at: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/index.html

If you have been diagnosed with a chronic lung disease, such as asthma or COPD, the extreme cold can make it even more difficult to catch your breath. Cold, dry air can make symptoms worse and cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Here are a few tips to help protect your lungs:

  • Follow your asthma or COPD action plan and contact your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen. 
  • Limit your exposure to cold and wind. If you need to go outside, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. 
  • Don’t try to exercise outside in severe cold weather. If you shovel snow, watch your symptoms and do not overexert yourself.

Whether you are dealing with extreme heat or extreme cold, be sure to check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that their homes are safely cooled and heated.  

For more information on protecting your lungs in extreme weather, please contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA.

Page last updated: March 19, 2024

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