When temperatures reach critical levels, limit outdoor activity and make sure to constantly rehydrate. Image courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In recent years, heat waves have led to more deaths in the United States than all other weather events. These numbers, from the National Weather Service, illustrate the importance of taking heat and dehydration threats in the summer months seriously.
July’s record temperatures following a “heat dome” across the Eastern half of the United States left 100-plus degree temperatures in areas of the country, including the Midwest and Northeast, not accustomed to prolonged hot spells. This heat, combined with humidity, can pose major dangers to the elderly, the young and the ill.
The American Red Cross website, www.redcross.org, has a listing of heat-related safety guidelines to follow in order to avoid heat-related illness and death. Though these steps are advisable during all summer months, the tips below are especially applicable during uncommon heat waves. From the Red Cross:
A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity. Generally temperatures are 10 degrees or more above the average high temperature for the region during summer months, last for a long period of time and occur with high humidity as well.
Warnings for heat dangers are classified as follows:
- Excessive Heat Watch — Conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event to meet or exceed local Excessive Heat Warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours.
- Excessive Heat Warning — Heat Index values are forecast to meet or exceed locally defined warning criteria for at least two days (daytime highs of 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Heat Advisory — Heat Index values are forecast to meet locally defined advisory criteria for one to two days (daytime highs of 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit).
How to prepare
To prepare for a heat wave, listen to local weather forecasts to stay aware of upcoming temperature changes. Discuss heat safety precautions with people in your household, including a plan for power outages for the home, work and school. During heat waves, demand on electrical appliances like air conditioners and fans can lead to power outages. Make sure your emergency preparedness kit includes supplies for power outages, including batteries to operate fans.
If you know of people in your community who are elderly, young, sick or overweight, make sure they are aware of precautions that should be taken. Exposure to direct sunlight greatly affects the impact of heat and humidity on the body, so limit outdoor time during the hottest hours. Identify locations that can provide relief during the hottest parts of the day if you do not have air conditioning – these include libraries, theaters, malls and schools.
Don’t forget about pets – make sure they have plenty of water and shade.
During a heat wave, these precautions should also be taken:
- Never leave children or pets alone in enclosed vehicles.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
- Eat small meals and eat more often.
- Avoid extreme temperature changes.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light- colored clothing. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.
- Slow down, stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day.
- Postpone outdoor games and activities.
- Use a buddy system when working in excessive heat.
- Take frequent breaks if you must work outdoors.