Extreme Weather Events & Arthritis: It Pays to Be Prepared

Imagine for a moment that you live in British Columbia’s Interior. It’s July and the temperature is sitting at 45C. It’s 11am. Strong winds carry the thick, suffocating smell of charred trees into your home.

You nervously watch the news to find out where the wildfire is heading. It’s a summer ritual that you’ve come to dread. Then, at 4pm, the worst case scenario happens. You’re told to immediately evacuate to the neighbouring town. You throw some essentials and sentimental items in your car, roundup the pets and drive. You don’t know when, or if, you will return.

This is a tragic and frightening situation that’s becoming more common for Canadians due to an increase in extreme weather events like wildfires, floods and storms. It can be even more stressful and scary when you live with a serious, chronic condition like arthritis.

Preparing for the worst can reduce stress and ensure you don’t forget any necessities, like medications, if forced to leave home at short notice. That’s why we’ve created a checklist to help people with arthritis plan for uncertainty caused by severe weather events.

 What you Should Pack:

  • A “go-bag” prepped with:
    • Prescribed and over-the-counter medications
    • A current list of important medical phone numbers: rheumatologist, pharmacist, etc.
    • A current list of all health conditions, allergies, and medications
    • Medical grade or N95 face masks
    • Your provincial health card (or a photocopy of it)
  • A small cooler with ice packs if you have medications that need to stay cold
  • Any assistive mobility devices that you may need

What you Should Plan:

  • Somewhere to stay if it’s no longer safe to be at home or if you are forced to evacuate from your home or city due to a natural event like a wildfire. Knowing where you’re going will make it faster and less stressful if you need to leave in a hurry.
  • Activate your network. Let your support system know that you might need their help with shelter or supplies so that they can also be prepared.
  • If you have enough advanced warning, ask your pharmacist if they are able to give you extra medication refills so you don’t run out.

What you Should Prepare for:

  • An increased risk of injury or infection (e.g. crowded living conditions)
  • Lack of fresh water availability
  • How to manage an arthritis flare in an emergency situation where you may not have immediate access to medical care
  • How to manage stress and get regular sleep

During the first two weeks of July 2021, an average of 40 new wildfires started every day in BC. Then, in November, atmospheric rivers destroyed highways, displaced around 15,000 people and cut the province off from the rest of the country. Last year, Ontario experienced the worst forest fire season on record. There were also tornadoes, hurricanes and arctic blasts in other areas.

The threat of a severe storm, wildfire or other unexpected natural event is very real and can be scary. Making a plan to look after your arthritis-related needs in case of emergency is a good first step to help you stay safe and healthy.

Not sure where to start? There are many online resources available (like this one from the Government of Canada). The Government of British Columbia also offers some tips on preparing for extreme heat

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