Thursday, June 9, 2011

The heat is on! Are you ready?

Right now can be an exciting time of year as school gets out, family summer vacations begin, and everyone flocks to the neighborhood swimming pool for a little relief from the heat. While summer officially starts on June 21, the fun and sun are already here. Lots of sun.

In recent years, excessive heat has caused more deaths than all other weather events, including floods. Heat related injuries such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion can happen quickly and are very dangerous. You and your family need to make sure you know the difference between these potentially life threatening conditions and what advisories to listen for in the weather forecasts so that you can plan ahead for extreme conditions.

A heat wave is typically a prolonged period of excessive heat often combined with excessive humidity. During a heat wave, temperatures are generally 10 degrees or more above the average high temperature for a region, lasting for a long period of time. Here are a few weather advisory terms you want to familiarize yourself with as things heat up.
  • Heat Index – The temperature the body feels when the effects of heat and humidity are combined. Exposure to direct sunlight can increase the heat index by as much as 15° F.
  • Heat Advisory – Heat Index values are forecast to meet locally defined advisory criteria for 1 to 2 days (daytime highs=100-105° Fahrenheit).
  • 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 2 days (daytime highs=105-110° Fahrenheit).
When these advisories are issued, it is often recommended to slow down, stay indoors and limit or avoid strenuous outdoor activities. This is especially good advice during the hottest part of the day which typically occurs during the late afternoon and early evening hours. Other ways to protect yourself include:
  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol which can actually cause you to lose more body fluid.
  • 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.
  • Take frequent breaks if you must work outdoors.
If your job or daily activities require you to be outdoors in extreme heat, it is imperative that you understand and know the warning signs of heat related injury and illness. If you notice any of the symptoms in yourself or someone else, immediate action must be taken.
  • Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms that usually occur in the legs or abdomen caused by exposure to high heat and humidity and loss of fluids and electrolytes. Heat cramps are often an early sign that the body is having trouble with the heat.
  • Heat exhaustion typically involves the loss of body fluids through heavy sweating during strenuous exercise or physical labor in high heat and humidity. Signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea; dizziness; weakness; and exhaustion.
  • Heat stroke (also known as sunstroke) is a life-threatening condition in which a person’s temperature control system stops working and the body is unable to cool itself. Signs of heat stroke include hot, red skin which may be dry or moist; changes in consciousness; vomiting; and high body temperature. Heat stroke is life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
At the first sign of any heat related injury or illness, the first priority is to move to a cooler place, remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. If the person is conscious, give small amounts of cool water to drink and make sure the person drinks slowly. Watch for changes in condition and if the person refuses water, vomits or begins to lose consciousness, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.

As in many dangerous situations, the “buddy system” is always a good idea. When working or involved in outdoor activities, have someone with you and watch out for each other. Get to know your neighbors and regularly check in on those that are that are at higher risk when the temperatures climb such as elderly people (65 years and older), infants and children and people with chronic medical conditions.

Lastly, schedules and routines often change as summer kicks off so be sure you add any extra reminders to prevent leaving your child or pet in a hot car. Remember, animals and children should never be left unattended in a vehicle for any period of time.

Get Red Cross Ready now with our Heat Wave Safety Checklist!

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety

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