Heat in the place

Two children buy sno-cones on Friday from a vendor along Upper Frederick Street, Port of Spain as they try to beat the swealtering heat.  - Jeff Mayers
Two children buy sno-cones on Friday from a vendor along Upper Frederick Street, Port of Spain as they try to beat the swealtering heat. - Jeff Mayers

Whenever Trinis talk about heat, it’s usually a metaphor for party enthusiasm or confrontation.

Over the last week and, according to the Meteorological Service, over the next fortnight, TT will be experiencing environmental heat as temperatures of near or greater than 34 degrees Celsius are expected in Trinidad and only a few degrees less than that in Tobago.

That's led to a rare yellow-level hot spell alert from the service, warning of sustained hot weather and the potential for danger.

When there is a minimal wind or breezes, temperatures may range higher, to as much as 44 degrees Celsius, particularly between 10 am to 4 pm.

The normal human body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius. When the ambient temperature approaches or exceeds that, the body is forced to sweat to cool itself. In the humid conditions typical of the tropics, nature's cooling may not work well leading to biological overheating.

The Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) set an excellent example in acknowledging the risks of outdoor football competition during a heatwave by instituting two water breaks in every match along with the expected halftime pause on activity. The SSFL is following FIFA guidelines for football in these environmental conditions, but it's an important signal to the rest of TT not to be cavalier about the hot spell warnings.

The Meteorological Service's advisory is about a hot spell that goes well beyond "a little hot sun," to represent a real threat to very young children, sick adults and the elderly.

The Ministry of Health has issued its own list of precautionary measures, which include eating more fruits and drinking at least eight to ten glasses of water daily. Anyone working outdoors should consider using sunscreen and appropriate head protection. Caregivers and families of the elderly should be particularly alert to the possibility of rising temperatures and poor airflow even inside a home and ensure that the elderly and infirm are safe, particularly if they are unable to take steps to manage themselves.

It isn't good enough for the Education Minister to consider the problem managed by existing measures in the school system to deal with heat in the classroom. These are exceptional circumstances which are likely to recur given global climate change. While air-conditioning schools is an understandably gradual process, teachers, parents and guardians would be heartened to hear from the Education Ministry about plans to address classrooms that might have been borderline in the past that have become unbearable in the current hot spell.

The worst possible reaction to these warnings, particularly at the level of governance, is underestimating the problems likely to arise because "we are in a tropical country and it's been hot."


"Heat in the place"

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