Massive Heat Waves: Expect Even Worse (And What to Do)

July 12, 2021

Heatwaves, droughts not seen in centuries, crop failures, hunger, mass migrations, rising sea levels, wildfires, floods, storm surges, mudslides, and over 16,000 new animals added to the endangered species list; there is no refuting that the Earth is undergoing a dramatic period of change that will render some areas unlivable.  Hundreds are dead from the recent Pacific Northwest heatwave, one of the dueling heatwaves scorching North America.  Deserts will bloom, and grasslands will turn to dust.  At the most conservative of estimates, sea levels will rise almost a foot in the next 30 years.  That will have a devastating impact far beyond coastal regions.  Oceans will wash further and further onto land, and storm surges will bring an abundance of rain suddenly to sun-scorched and soil-compacted lands.  It may sound like the plot of an action thriller movie, and for some, it may play out that way.  We don’t always see how extensive this environmental change is because it’s not always viewable out our windows.  Many will dismiss the freak once in a lifetime storm that hits their hometown as just that, once in a lifetime.  They’re only slightly more perplexed the following year when it happens again.  Then, when it happens for the third year in a row, they have to choose between clinging to their beliefs or accepting that a more significant ecological threat confronts them.  By then, they are behind the curve on getting prepared.

Humans are very good at psychologically distancing themselves from things that matter in the future but not now.  The myths that it won’t affect you and there’s nothing you can do will eventually give way to the accelerating reality of more heatwaves, floods, fires, storms, and more.  Can you prep for Earth’s environmental change that will affect you but will more dramatically affect your children and their children?

No Matter Where You Live

Chicago seems far enough removed from the coastal threats of oceans rising, but it is engaged in a similar struggle.  It doesn’t sit in the path of hurricanes, and it doesn’t suffer from wildfires like in the west; however, there’s no drought there, as the last five years have been wetter than any decade on record.  Areas along the banks of Lake Michigan have frequently flooded; however, increased evaporation has also caused the water levels to drop significantly.  There’s an oscillating pattern of extremely high and low levels.  As bad as flooding is, the evaporation rates threaten to lower Lake Michigan levels so much that they would cease to flow into the Chicago River.  The river would backflow into the lake.  The river carries in freshwater to the city and carries off wastewater.

Chicago is just one example.  The Pacific Northwest is ill-equipped to handle hot weather.  The houses are built to withstand cold and rain, not heat.  Most older homes don’t have any form of air conditioning.  It is of little surprise that 100s died in this last heatwave.  And, this previous heatwave will have a devastating and lasting effect on wildlife and plant life.  Native plants are flowering too early, and old-growth trees are dying off.  If the heatwaves persist or occur with increasing regularity, the whole ecology of an area can be altered.  This is particularly difficult for farmers who grow crops ideal for a specific climate.  When that climate is too extreme, crops fail or produce lower yields.  This has a rippling effect across the food supply chain and leads to significant shortages anywhere that crop is used or eaten.  Those ripples extend out to you wherever you may be, and in whatever safe corner of the Earth you are.  I’ll explore this and how our narrow range of variations is a recipe for disaster with this extreme weather a little later in this video, but it’s essential to understand how far-ranging these weather patterns are. 

Heat Everywhere

In February, a jet stream of Sahara dust brought a winter heatwave to Europe.  Historic temperatures and droughts are scorching the entire western states of the U.S.  The Arctic circle, including Russia, Canada, Greenland, and the United States, hit records of 31.9 degrees Celsius, 89.4 degrees Fahrenheit.  In June, heatwaves were experienced across the Great Plains and Canadian prairies.  Death Valley, CA, recorded a record-breaking 128 degrees Fahrenheit, 53.3 degrees celsius.  From the Pacific Northwest through Mexico and the Southwestern United States, even Nova Scotia and the East Coast of the United States are suffering from dueling heat waves.

Ice melting and greater evaporation lead to more significant moisture in the air, leading to more incredible storms when the rain does come.  When the rain comes to parched, dried, and compacted land, it doesn’t stay put.  So, both more significant storms and flood surges are possible for many.  The current heat-induced drought creates another problem for many, and that is wildfires.  Colorado had the three largest fires in the state’s history last year.  California suffered from multiple wildfires.  More European countries suffered from large forest fires in 2018 than ever before, and Sweden experienced the worst fire season in reporting history.  Canada is fighting more than 180 wildfires right now, and most homes and structures in the village of Lytton were destroyed after a fast-moving fire suddenly tore through the community, forcing more than 1,000 people to flee.  

Some of these fires are sparked by downed powerlines; some are manmade, some are induced by lightning strikes.  The causes vary, but the conditions, the dry tinder, and scorching temperatures that create the perfect fuel for the wildfires have been building for years.  This current heatwave may seem new because we feel the effects so acutely right now, but it has been ongoing.  It stretches across several years and shows no accurate indication of letting up anytime soon.  The wildfire that devastated the Western Canadian village of Lytton, Canada, in July was preceded by a heatwave in June, which had exceeded the all-time high temperatures ever recorded in Canada.

While the northern hemisphere burns, the southern hemisphere freezes.  Parts of Europe suffered through both record heatwaves and a cold wave in February.  February brought a coldwave to the central regions of most of North America as well.  Unseasonably cold weather resulted in heavy snow to widespread areas of China, even the Middle East, as they experienced their winter.  Is a brutally cold winter next up for the Northern hemisphere, and will it bring new record cold or record snowfall and much-needed precipitation?  If the heat and drought suddenly reverse in Fall, as they may very well do, the western and southern United States should be bracing for monsoon conditions.  Over the last several years, there has been a significant weakening of the Polar Vortex, unleashing blasts of freezing cold air into the U.S.  This has destabilized the jet stream and caused it to slow.  The result is these patterns of extreme heat just sitting in place for an extended period.   They slow, even stall in place.  If the heat waves don’t reverse and persist even slightly through the northern hemispheres winter months, we will see mild temperatures intermittent with freezing temperatures with little moisture.  This will lead to a cold but dry winter. Next year’s heatwaves and drought will be exponentially more extreme.

Infrastructure Failures

Lake Mead’s levels have dropped, and that impairs Hoover Dam’s ability to produce hydroelectric power.  One of the largest hydropower plants in the United States is producing 33% less energy due to the drought strangling the Western U.S.  At the same time, record high temperatures are creating greater consumer demand for cooling needs.  It’s not just the one energy producer, though.  The Oroville dam’s water levels may get so low this Summer that the power plant there will have to go offline completely.

High winds and brutally dry conditions spark wildfires, and rolling blackouts as an aging electrical grid is forced to transform itself to keep pace with a rapidly changing climate.  These problems did not exist to this extent 40 years ago, and demand was much lower then.  We witnessed the effect of extreme cold weather in Texas this year as electricity producers went offline.  Freezing pipes resulted in widescale failures in the water delivery system.  Gas stations were depleted and unable to be replenished, which left many without fuel for generators.

Extreme weather events often exceed infrastructure capacities and design standards and initiate infrastructure hardware and institutional failures, which can cascade to service outages.  Why would a company invest in winterizing power plants against the significant cold for an extended period?  So, we have the Texas power failure.  Heat and demand can cause powerlines to sag and can result in blackouts.  Higher than average and persistent winds can force power companies to shut down to prevent possible wildfires.  Infrastructure systems are increasingly interdependent upon each other.  When the power goes out, so do the pumps for fuel, municipal water, and sewers.

The bottom line is extreme weather, oscillations of temperatures from highs to lows, and irregular patterns all can directly lead to interdependent infrastructure failures.  These minor and major grid-down situations have a cascading effect across supply and food chains.

Monoculture: The Downfall of the Food Supply During Weather Extremes

Food shortages are just one looming disaster that environmental change will bring.  Monoculture is the agricultural practice of growing a single crop, plant, or livestock species, variety, or breed in a field or farming system at a time. Polyculture is where more than one crop or livestock species are grown in the same space.  The term monoculture also extends out to genetic monocultures.  When failures occur along a genetic monoculture, whole cultures are affected.  The exclusive use of one variety of potatoes in Ireland led to the Great Famine of 1845-1849 and led to one of the greatest mass exoduses from a single island in history.  You may not remember the Gros Michel cultivar of banana.  It was favored before the 1950s for its taste and tiny seeds, but it was also planted asexually through cuttings. It had a singular genetic marker that left it vulnerable to a fungal disease that wiped out production and force growers to adopt the Cavendish.  The Cavendish is also a clone of previous plants, so it is susceptible to a single similar blight.

Potatoes and bananas are just two examples.  The same monoculture that leads to high yields but weakened genetics has been seen in livestock as well.  Focusing heavily on one genetic trait has come at the expense of other characteristics.  Resistance to disease, mothering instincts, even fertility is sometimes diminished in favor of bulk, leanness, or fat.  Thirty years ago, in the early 1990s, this was realized when Holstein calves were notably growing slower, and some were dying before they were six months old.   They were found to be homozygous, having the same genetic sequence for a gene that caused leukocyte adhesion deficiency– a recessive disorder causing immunodeficiency.  Once diagnosed, the same genetic defect was found in an estimated 600,000 cattle worldwide and was tracked to a single bull that was widely used in the industry.  Right now, the global consumption of chicken is at 137 million chickens per day.  Global consumption of eggs in developed nations ranges between 200 and 320 eggs per person per year.  There is a lot of potential for failure in a monoculture poultry and egg industry.

The loss of biodiversity and feed diversity leaves livestock susceptible to various ailments, both genetic and external.  Rising temperatures and species migrations have led to an accelerated spread of infectious diseases.  Modern, high-yield chicken, cattle, and hog production create the potential for widescale failures.  When the commercial hybrid CornishX chicken comes down with a case of avian flu or the heat is so extreme they can’t be cooled in their massive facilities, what then?  Can the chicken industry pivot to a heartier chicken of the more than 500 species out there?  If an outbreak occurs amidst the handful of egg-laying varieties on farms with populations of hundreds of thousands of them, can the industry just shift to a heartier variety?  Probably not.  In both cases, the flow of chicken or eggs to your stores would evaporate overnight.

These singular strains of plants and animals create excellent yields when things are stable but are more susceptible to blight or disease when weather patterns alter significantly for long periods.  Most of the world’s biggest crops: soy, corn, wheat, oats, potatoes, barley, and more all come from singular genetic lines or a few variations of the hundreds available in the wild because of their specific ability to grow in a particular, stable climate.  When those crops fail, feed crops fail.  The result is fewer nutrients, lowered immunities, and a higher chance of cascading collapses in our food supply.

What Can You Do?

Let’s be honest.  One person, one country, even a few countries banding together, likely isn’t enough to alter the trajectory of weather extremes.  Though you could move off-grid and live a self-sufficient lifestyle, which would be ideal, most lack the resources to do so.  What you can do is to develop your independence from these systems that absolutely will fail and to harden yourself off from the extreme weather patterns that will occur with greater frequency.  Here are five short term survival needs you can address today:


Get your personal water storage to a level that will sustain you for a minimum of 3-days.  The ideal would be a minimum of 3-weeks, and that should be your goal.  You will need at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for emergencies. 1/2 a gallon for drinking, 1/4 gallon for cooking, and 1/4 gallon for washing.  That would be 21 gallons or so per person for 21 days.  That will get you through the bulk of disasters you face. You can quickly and compactly store this amount of water along a wall with one 10-pack of Waterbricks like those available at the site.  I’ll put a link in the section below. 


Food is the next essential to building your security amidst disasters.  Most people don’t have enough in their refrigerator and cupboards to sustain them even a few days.  Food has to be your next prep beyond water.  Have enough non-perishable and long shelf-life food on hand to feed you at least one 1-month, and preferably 3-months.  Your goal is to be constantly pushing the timeframe further back.  When you are at a year or more, you’re prepped with food to last you through almost all the significant disasters you could face.  Be aware that long-shelf-life food is often dehydrated or freeze-dried and will increase the amount of water needed for cooking.  Beyond this, and especially if the disaster continues, learn to grow something to supplement and extend your supplies.  If that’s a patio garden or a backyard garden, great.  If it’s sprouts or mushrooms on the countertop of your kitchen, great.  If it’s learning to forage and knowing where plants grow in your area, that’s great too.  I guarantee you after a disaster, most people won’t be harvesting purslane, dandelion, and broadleaf plantain out of your lawn, but both will give you an abundance of vital nutrients.  Make sure you have the food you need to survive for an extended period of time.  


With your water and food needs addressed, you should have enough energy to meet your minimal needs.  Charging smart devices, light sources, heaters, refrigerated coolers, fans, and other small devices.  This can be achieved through power supplies, large and small.  If you only need small devices charged, a solar panel or a small solar battery may suffice.  A more powerful solar generator is more expensive, but it will provide you with a broader range of uses and higher power levels.  Have some form of power backup, whether that is solar, wind, gas, or propane.  I’ll be doing a video shortly about getting a whole-home battery backup system installed.


Either insulate your whole structure or select areas of it you can retreat to that will maintain comfortable temperatures for the longest amount of time.  I have other videos on surviving cold weather by quickly altering and insulating a room, so you will want to take a look at that.  Also, look at long-term solutions.  Is there an internal room of your house that can be insulated further, heated, or cooled easily?  If so, can you establish it as part of your extreme weather survival plan?  Can you quickly convert it to your operation center?  

Conversely, if you live in an area that has any recorded history of flood, fire, or inclement weather, study up on those occurrences.  It is worth understanding what the worst was in your area in the past.  Areas that have flooded can flood again at the same or higher levels.  The Great Dustbowl can happen again.  Understand how those people sheltered, coped, and survived if you live in the same zone.  Know your evacuation routes and be prepared to bug out.  You can’t stay in your home if it’s on fire or underwater.  Make shelter part of your survival plan.

Health & Sanitation

I have some other blogs on this topic, as I do for most of the things discussed here, but your health and sanitation needs are critical after a disaster.  Beyond having the medicines and aid supplies you need after a disaster, you have to be able to dispose of human waste safely.  Make sure to have a large 5-gallon bucket and 100s of trash bags on hand.


Many disasters can befall you.  There are the “very likely” and the “unlikely but possible” varieties.  You have to move extreme and prolonged weather into the probable category.  There isn’t any more time for debate, and we don’t have to know the reasons behind it to plug in our own solution set.  Even if your area remains stable and temperate, when other regions suffer, it sends a ripple through our food supply and jeopardizes our critical interdependent infrastructure.  This results in more and greater disasters.  So insulating yourself from heatwaves and extreme, prolonged weather by addressing the five short-term survival needs will increase your odds of survival.

How has the weather affected you?  What is your plan to deal with the fallout should things continue or worsen?  What’s your forecast?   

As always, please stay safe out there.

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