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Vermont is expecting an intense heat wave. Here's what to know

A window air conditioning unit sits in a window in a red brick building
Vermont is bracing for a heat wave, and officials say people in parts of the state that tend to be cooler, like the Northeast Kingdom, could be particularly impacted and should stay vigilant about their exposure to high temperatures.

A dangerous heatwave is heading to Vermont. The National Weather Service in Burlington expects temperatures Tuesday through Thursday to soar into the mid-to-upper 90s, and with high humidity, residents should expect it to feel hotter. Ninety-degree temperatures will feel much closer to 100 or 105 F, for example.

“We consider that to be oppressive,” said Pete Banacos, the science and operations officer at NWS Burlington. “It’s going to feel very tropical out there.”

High temperatures are forecast across the state; valleys will likely see the warmest weather. But extremely hot temperatures are also expected across the Northeast Kingdom, which has a higher proportion of residents who are older, live alone and have no air conditioning — all risk factors for heat illness.

“There’s a large disparity between folks in the Champlain Valley and, say, the Northeast Kingdom where a lower percentage of homes have air conditioning,” Banacos said. “And so even if it gets not quite as hot up in that part of the state, because they’re more vulnerable in this situation, it can be just as impactful up there.”

Vermont's intense heat comes as much of the Midwest, Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions are also bracing for a heatwave this week. In New England, Banacos said, high temps are being driven by converging weather patterns, which will bring a blast of warm tropical air from over the southeastern Atlantic.

Models show the heat will likely be most intense Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

Tips for staying safe — and checking in on others

Public health officials are warning Vermonters to take steps to stay safe during high temperatures. That’s due to three main factors: the high level of humidity, the relatively warm temperatures forecast overnight and the fact that it’s falling so early in the year.

“The heat impacts on human health are cumulative,” Banacos said. “When we don’t see temperatures dropping much at night, that makes it that much worse, especially for at-risk populations like the elderly or those with existing health conditions.”

Vermont sees more emergency room trips during and after heat waves.

Often, it takes a few days of hot temperatures for people to feel the full impact of heat, said David Grass, with the Vermont Department of Health.

“Things like hurricanes and floods are very visible and very tangible, but heat is very much a silent killer.”
David Grass, Vermont Department of Health

“You get this lag effect, where people might start to feel uncomfortable in day one, or day two, but then they can actually become sick in day three, or in the days afterwards,” Grass said.

People who live alone are particularly at risk, and heat waves are a great time to check in with neighbors to make sure they have what they need to stay cool.

Cooling centers are opening across the state.

More from the Vermont Department of Health:

Climate change

Banacos, with the National Weather Service, said forecasters aren’t seeing signs that this heat wave will be a record-breaker — either for heat or for length.

In 2020, Vermont saw six consecutive days of 90-plus degree temperatures, with Burlington hitting 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, in 2018, the state saw six consecutive days of temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

That last heat wave was also very humid, which Banacos said made it particularly oppressive.

This time around, forecasters are experiencing a shorter spree of hot temperatures, but with very high humidity.

And while Vermont has seen extreme heat like this in the past, Banacos said it is part of a larger warming trend.

"We are seeing a warming climate and warming temperatures here and across Vermont, in the aggregate,” he said.

In addition, analysis from the Vermont Department of Health shows that some Vermont communities are hit especially hard by extreme heat.

Grass said it’s a climate impact that is frequently overlooked in places with historically cooler climes.

“Heat … sends more people to both the hospital and to the morgue than any other natural disaster,” he said. “Things like hurricanes and floods are very visible and very tangible, but heat is very much a silent killer.”

Grass said people who work outside should take breaks in the shade or in air conditioning. The same goes for people working in hot environments in personal protective equipment.

Older people, people with disabilities, people who are experiencing homelessness and anyone who lives without air conditioning are particularly at risk of heat illness.

Grass said this is a time to show compassion for others when seeking access to cooling centers.

“One of the things I find most striking is the role of stigma in preventing people from being able to access cool environments,” he said. “If people who are experiencing homelessness are made to feel unwelcome in a cafe, a library, any space that is publicly accessible and cool, that can become a life or death issue for them if they have no cool place to go.”

Vermont Public's Corey Dockser contributed to this report.

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Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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