What is the Difference Between Heat Wave, Heat Dome, and Heat Stroke?

The rising temperatures can lead to a number of health-related conditions. Learn the difference between heat wave, heat dome, and heat stroke and find out how to stay safe this scorching summer.
Heat wave vs heat dome vs heat stroke- what is the difference?
Heat wave vs heat dome vs heat stroke- what is the difference?

The temperature is rising all across the globe. The unprecedented heat has already caused a number of health-related problems like heat exhaustion, hyperthermia, and many more. It has now become increasingly important to stay safe and take care of your health in this scorching heat. It is also important to understand things that can affect your health. 

During the summer season, we usually come across these terms- heat wave, heat dome, and heat stroke. People hear or read about these terms often, but many of them are unaware of their distinct meanings and implications. 

So, in this article, we will explore the difference between heat wave, heat dome, and heat stroke. But let’s define them first. 

What is a heat wave?

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) defines a heat wave as “a condition of air temperature which becomes fatal to human body when exposed.” 

In other words, a heat wave can be defined as a period of exceptionally high temperatures, much higher than the average temperature, that lasts for at least two consecutive days and which may or may not be accompanied by humidity. 

In India, the IMD declares a heat wave if the temperature goes above 40oC (104°F) in plain areas and above 30oC (86°F) in mountains and hilly areas. 

Exposure to heat waves can cause dehydration, cramps, heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke. 

What is a heat dome?

A heat dome occurs when heated ocean air becomes trapped in a vast area, typically in the shape of a dome (hence the nomenclature). This heat dome causes an unprecedented rise in temperatures. It can affect enormous areas, even spanning several states, and can last for days or even weeks.

What is a heat stroke?

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say “Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes.” 

In other words, heat stroke is a serious health condition caused by tremendously high temperatures. It is a serious medical issue that requires quick medical attention. It causes the affected person’s body to lose its ability to regulate its temperature and causes it to rise quickly.

Now that we have defined the three terms, let’s move on to the differences between them. 

Heat wave vs heat dome vs heat stroke- what is the difference?

Here are the major differences between heat wave, heat dome, and heat stroke. 


Heat Wave

Heat Dome

Heat Stroke


An extended period of excessive heat. 

Massive high-pressure system trapping hot air in the shape of a dome.

A health condition where the body overheats due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures.


Can last several days.

Can last for a few days or even weeks.

Can last for hours or several days.

Geographical distribution

Affects a large region, e.g., a country or continent.

Localised to a specific area, usually a state, city, or town.

Occurs when exposed to higher temperatures for extended period of time.


High temperature and/or humidity.

Extremely high temperatures and stale air.

Body temperature rises quickly, often above 104°F (40°C)


Dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke.

Respiratory problems, poor air quality, and heat exhaustion.

Cramps, nausea, dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness, persisting fever, and even seizures.

Health risk

Can cause serious health issues, including death.

Can cause serious health issues, including death.

Can be life-threatening, and require immediate medical attention.


Stay hydrated, avoid sun exposure, and use air conditioning.

Wear light clothing, stay indoors, and if outside, stand in cool areas or shade.

Stay hydrated, avoid sun exposure, do not overexert yourself, and rest in cool areas. 

It is important to take care of yourself in the summer. Failing to take necessary precautions can cause unwarranted health problems and, in some cases, even death. Try to stay indoors and in cool areas; use sunscreen; drink plenty of water; do not overexert yourself or stay out in the sun for long periods of time; and try to recognise any signs of heat-related health problems. Take these necessary precautions and enjoy the summer. 

We hope that this article was helpful to you in understanding the differences between heat wave, heat dome, and heat stroke.

Also Read | What is the difference between Heat Wave and Cold Wave?

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