Hot Weather and Health Impacts

Vermont Climate Change Hot Weather

Heat can cause serious illness. Heat illnesses can be deadly. On very hot days, sometimes people's body temperature control systems can't keep up. When that happens, their body temperature gets dangerously high. As a result, they are at greater risk of serious heat illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which is a life-threatening emergency. If you have concerns about your health or someone else's health, dial 9-1-1 or get immediate medical attention.

In addition to heat stroke, heat can kill by worsening existing chronic health conditions. For example, for the many Vermonters over the age of 65 who have a chronic condition—such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes—temperatures over 87°F can put them at a higher risk of life-threatening illness. People who feel unwell or faint in hot weather are also vulnerable to serious or deadly falls. People with chronic conditions may not show typical signs of heat illness, but rather worsened symptoms of their condition. If you or someone you know has a potentially dangerous chronic condition and begins to feel sick during a hot day, pay very close attention. If you have concerns about a person's condition, get immediate medical attention.

Climate change will increase the number of dangerously hot days.

A Health Department analysis shows that Vermonters are at greater risk for serious heat-related illnesses, and even death, when the statewide average temperature reaches 87°F or hotter. Since 2000, Vermont has had an average of seven hot days per year when the temperature reached 87°F or hotter. Climate models from the Vermont State Climate Office predict 15 to 20 hot days per year by mid-century, and 20 to 34 hot days per year by the end of the century. As the climate warms and there are more hot days, more heat-related illnesses and deaths will occur, although some of these impacts can be avoided by taking actions to prepare and adapt.

Anyone can be affected by heat illnesses.

Heat illnesses are a real danger, even here in our northern climate. Vermonters go to the emergency department for heat illnesses just as often as people in Maryland. Being young does not protect you from heat illness. In fact, Vermonters between the ages of 15 and 34 have a greater risk of going to the emergency department for a heat-related reason compared to adults aged 35 to 65.

There are, however, populations of particular concern for health impacts from heat. Young children, older adults, people taking certain medications, and those with chronic health conditions may have problems regulating their body temperature. For people with pre-existing medical conditions, heat may put increased stress on already compromised systems. Young children can be particularly vulnerable to heat, and should NEVER be left in a motor vehicle during warm weather. Older adults living alone, especially those with mobility difficulties or dependency on others for care, are at an increased risk.

Protect yourself on hot days.
  • water hydration hydrated extreme heat cdc vermontSTAY COOL. Stay inside, in air-conditioning if you can, or in cool places such as basements. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Take cool showers. Sleep without sheets. Avoid hot drinks and meals. Fans can be helpful, but shouldn’t be relied on as a primary cooling method. If you need to, go to public buildings that are air-conditioned.
  • KEEP YOUR HOUSE COOL. Draw light-colored shades to keep out morning and afternoon sun—dark-colored shades can be less effective. Close windows during the day when it is hotter outside than inside. Use fans to blow in cooler outside air or vent out warmer inside air. Limit use of the stove, oven, and other heat-generating appliances.
  • STAY HYDRATED. Drink more water than usual, especially if exercising or active outdoors. Be proactive, don’t wait until you are thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine because they make you lose water.
  • LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Take it easy. Reduce outdoor work and exercise and limit it to the cooler parts of the day. If you feel sick, ask for help. Stop what you are doing if you feel faint or weak. Heat can worsen existing chronic health conditions.
  • DON’T BE A STRANGER. Check on your loved ones and neighbors, especially if they are elderly or have chronic health conditions. Make sure they are drinking enough water and are staying cool. Remind them to take heat seriously!
  • NEVER LEAVE CHILDREN, ADULTS WITH DISABILITIES, OR PETS IN A PARKED VEHICLE. The sun can turn a vehicle into an oven within minutes, even if it doesn’t feel hot outside. 
  • KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses
  • STAY INFORMED. Follow local weather and news reports. Monitor Health Department social media (Twitter and Facebook) and Vermont Emergency Management social media (Twitter and Facebook). Sign up to receive alerts from VT Alert.
Prepare your home and other buildings for hot weather.
  • Modify buildings and ventilation systems to increase cool air flow while venting out hot air.
  • Seal air leaks and properly insulate to help keep buildings cool in summer and retain heat in winter.
  • Plant trees, shrubs, and vines around buildings to maximize summer shade and cooling breezes.
  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs that stay much cooler and save energy.
  • Put in air conditioners, heat pumps, or similar cooling devices.
  • When it’s time to replace your roof, use light-colored materials to reflect heat.
  • When replacing siding, doors, and windows, choose energy-efficient options.
  • Learn more about ways to keep your home cool at Efficiency Vermont
Protect yourself and your workforce when working outside.
Protect your community from health impacts on hot days.
  • Create a community response plan identifying protective actions to take on hot days.
  • Open cooling centers in air-conditioned public buildings on hot days.
  • Use local aid networks to identify, check-in on, and assist individuals at high risk for heat impacts.
  • Create policies for modifying or cancelling outdoor work, student activities, and public events on hot days.
  • Plant trees and shrubs, and reduce paved surfaces to keep urbanized areas cooler.
  • Promote energy-efficient building design, including use of cool roofs and pavements.
Learn more about heat impacts in Vermont and how to stay safe on hot days.
Resource Description

Heat-Related Illnesses and First Aid

What to do if someone is experiencing heat-related illness symptoms
Vermont Heat Vulnerability Index Maps The Index draws together 17 different measures of vulnerability in six different themes: population, socioeconomic, health, environmental, climate, and heat illness. These measures are combined to measure the overall vulnerability of Vermont towns to heat-related events.
Extreme Heat and Health Information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention about how to stay cool, stay hydrated, and stay informed.
Climate Change and Heat Impacts on Health Fact sheet from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention about actions we can take to prepare for climate change and extreme heat events.
National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) Toolkit The NIHHIS is an integrated system and an interagency partnership with the goal to reduce morbidity and mortality due to extreme heat.
Heat Impacts on Health in Vermont This document details the association of summer temperatures with heat-related illness and mortality in Vermont.
Heat Vulnerability in Vermont This report provides a description of and rationale for the methods used to produce the Vermont Heat Vulnerability Index.
Vermont Heat Vulnerability Index This is a two-page summary description of the Vermont Heat Vulnerability Index.