The Practical Prepper
With summer arriving this week and the NOAA predicting a warmer-than-normal summer, it's important to get ready to deal with heat waves. High temperatures can kill by heating the body above its ability to cool itself off. In a typical year, about 175 people in the United States suffer heat-related deaths.
North American summers are normally hot anyway; most summers see heat waves in at least one part of the country. East of the Rocky Mountains, they often combine high temperatures with high humidity. Our bodies' main method of cooling off is through the evaporation of sweat. Therefore, high humidity can cause problems even in relatively moderate summer temperatures, since it inhibits the evaporation of sweat.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has devised the "Heat Index" (HI) to better reflect the impact of temperature and humidity; the HI is sometimes referred to as the "Apparent Temperature." The HI, given in degrees F, is an accurate measure of how hot it really feels to us when relative humidity is combined with the actual temperature. This following chart shows the HI for a wide range of temperature and humidity levels:
As you can see, even temperatures as low as 86°F can be dangerous when the humidity is above 90 percent. The NWS issues the following heat-related notices when conditions warrant:
- Excessive Heat Outlooks: These outlooks are issued when the potential exists for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days. These notices give you a chance to review your plans and be sure you're prepared.
- Excessive Heat Watches: Such a watch means that an excessive heat event may occur in the next 24 to 72 hours. Although shorter notice, a Watch still allows enough lead time to prepare.
- Excessive Heat Warning/Advisories: These are issued when an excessive heat event is occurring, is imminent (within the next 36 hours), or has a very high probability of occurring. The warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property. An advisory is for less serious conditions that cause significant discomfort or inconvenience and, if caution is not taken, could lead to a threat to life and/or property.
If a Heat Wave Is Predicted or Happening
Be prepared for heat emergencies by following the tips below. Be sure to discuss things with your family too:
- Minimize your direct exposure to the sun.
- Slow down and avoid strenuous activity when it's dangerously hot. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4–7 AM.
- Stay indoors, in your coolest location, as much as possible. Use air conditioners if possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of the sunshine. Another alternative is to spend time in air-conditioned locations such as malls or libraries.
- Remember, electric fans do not cool the air, but they can help sweat evaporate, which cools your body. You can also use portable electric fans to exhaust hot air from rooms or draw in cooler air. Don’t direct the flow of portable electric fans toward yourself when room temperature is hotter than 90°F.
- Take a cool bath or shower.
- Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing to reflect away some of the sun's heat.
- Your body needs water to keep cool, especially when you sweat. Drink plenty of water regularly and often, even if you do not feel thirsty. Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies, but drinks with electrolytes (e.g., Gatorade) can be good too. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them. They can make you feel good briefly, but make the heat's effects on your body worse. This is especially true about beer, which actually dehydrates the body. Iced coffee isn't helpful either.
- Eat small meals, more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase your metabolism and produce more internal body heat. Eat light, cool, easy-to-digest foods such as fruit or salads
- Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
- Check on older, sick, or frail people you know who may need help in dealing with excessive heat.
- Children and pets have less body mass, so they can suffer from heat exhaustion more quickly. Monitor your children and/or pets for signs of heat illness or dehydration. Make certain that they drink plenty of water. If children don't want plain water, add a little fruit drink powder to it.
- Don’t leave children or pets alone in cars for any amount of time — even if the temperature seems fairly low. This chart shows how the car's interior reaches lethal temperatures in a very short time (even with the windows open slightly):
- Heat can affect anyone, but it is more likely to affect young children, elderly people, and those with health problems. For example, people with poor blood circulation, taking diuretics (medication to get rid of water from the body), or having certain skin conditions may be more at risk. Consult your doctor if you have any questions about how your medication(s) may affect your ability to tolerate heat.
Signs and Treatment of Heat Emergencies
It's best to take a first-aid course to get trained in treating heat-related emergencies. Nonetheless, here are some basic tips:
- Heat cramps: These are painful, brief muscle cramps, spasms, or jerks that occur during exertion in a hot environment. Heat cramps may also be delayed and occur hours later. They usually involve the muscles in the calves, thighs, abdomen, and shoulders. A person is most at risk when performing activities in a hot environment that they're not used to doing. To alleviate heat cramps, get the person to a cooler place and have them rest in a comfortable position. Lightly stretching the affected muscle will help. Give them a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes to replenish fluids. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them because they may make things worse.
- Heat exhaustion: This shows up as cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. The victim's body temperature will be near normal. Get the person out of the heat and into a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets. If the person is conscious, give them cool water to drink. Be sure to have them drink slowly. As with heat cramps, give them a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes, and not liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine. Let the victim rest in a comfortable position, and watch carefully for changes in his or her condition.
- Heat stroke: Symptoms include hot, red skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high -- sometimes as high as 105°F. If the person was sweating from heavy work or exercise, skin may be wet; otherwise, it will feel dry. Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation — help is needed fast. Call 911 or your local emergency number. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body. Immerse victim in a cool bath, or wrap wet sheets around the body and fan it. Watch for signals of breathing problems. Keep the person lying down and continue to cool the body any way you can. If the victim refuses water, is vomiting, or there are changes in the level of consciousness, do not give them anything to eat or drink.
For more information and tips on dealing with very hot weather, visit the Extreme Heat page at ready.gov.
Believing that preparedness and self-reliance are key to individual freedom, Atticus Freeman is the founder of the Self-Reliant Info blog, in addition to authoring The Practical Prepper weekly blog here on Farm Dreams. Thanks for reading!