Summer in southern California can be very dynamic. We are already in the zone of high temperatures and with reasonable surety, we can expect a significant number of extremely hot days, reaching the triple digits. Along with those blistering days, people will be more subject to the heat-related casualties, resulting from high temperatures and summer conditions.
Why is heat such a major concern? Simply put, heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Most heat disorders occur because the victim has been over exposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition. Older adults, young children and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat.
Conditions that can also induce heat-related illnesses include stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. Consequently, people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas. In addition, asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually release heat at night, which can produce higher nighttime temperatures known as the “urban heat, island effect.”
A heat wave is an extended period of extreme heat and is often accompanied by high humidity. These conditions can be dangerous and even life-threatening for humans who don’t take the proper precautions.
To prepare for the extreme heat, you should:
- install window air conditioners snugly; insulate if necessary.
- check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation.
- install temporary window reflectors for use between windows and drapes. Consider using aluminum foil-covered cardboard as a means to reflect heat back outside. Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent.
- weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air inside.
- keep storm windows up throughout the entire year.
- listen to local weather forecasts and stay aware of upcoming temperature changes. Get acquainted with those in your neighborhood who are elderly, young, sick or overweight, because they are more likely to become victims of excessive heat and may need help.
- arrange to get trained in first aid so you will be prepared to treat heat-related emergencies, if necessary.
Actions to take during an extreme heat condition include:
- listening to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio for critical updates from the National Weather Service.
- never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
- staying on the lowest floor out direct sunlight, if air conditioning is not available.
- rescheduling outdoor games and activities during cooler periods of the day.
- considering spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls or other community facilities. Circulating air can cool the body by increasing the perspiration rate of evaporation.
- eating well-balanced, light and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed by a physician. Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine — Persons with epilepsy or heart, kidney or liver disease and and those on fluid-restricted diets or those who have a problem with fluid retention, should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake. Limit your intake of alcoholic beverages.
- dressing in loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s heat. Protect face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
- avoiding strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat and take frequent breaks.
- checking on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone. Check on your animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat.
- going to a designated public shelter if your home loses power during periods of extreme heat. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
The majority of prescribed actions are common sense. We must be ever vigilant to avoid the pitfalls that develop into crises situations. Our summers are long and the tendency to ignore the threats increases as we go about our daily lives. A good reference source for tips on the heat is http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/brochures/heatwave.pdf
Summer is an enjoyable time of the year. Know your limitations and be cognizant of the dangers involving excess heat.