We’ve been pretty lucky — hot weather-wise this summer. Compared to 2011 and 2012, it’s been downright pleasant.
With a freak snow in May and mostly pleasant weather since then, which is very uncharacteristic of Arkansas, we could be excused if we hoped for a completely mild summer. But the highs this week are starting to get to that sizzly part of the thermometer when it’s almost too hot to go to the pool, and anything to be done outdoors has to be considered from numerous vantage points, not the worst of which is in the shade of a large oak tree or better, from the recliner in the den.
Hot days mean it’s time to remember that wind and ice aren’t the only weather hazards we face, and the hot and humid days can be killers. According to the National Weather Service’s Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services, heat causes hundreds of fatalities each year. In fact, the heat wave of 1995 is still the deadliest weather event in the history of Chicago; more than 700 died in the city we more commonly associate with wind, cold and ice.
Excessive heat can cause a number of physical symptoms, all uncomfortable, some dangerous and some fatal, according to the NWS. If you or someone you are near experiences these conditions, you should seek cooler surroundings if possible and apply appropriate first aid.
The National Weather Service offers this advice.
Heat cramps are indicated by painful muscle cramps in the legs or abdomen and excessive sweating. Apply firm pressure or gentle massage to cramping muscles and give sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue the water.
Heat exhaustion may manifest in heavy sweating, weakness, cool, clammy skin, nausea, vomiting and even fainting. Move a person with these symptoms to a cooler place, loosen clothing, apply cool, wet cloths and offer water unless there is vomiting. If vomiting is prolonged, call for medical attention.
Heat stroke, the most dangerous consequence of excessive heat, can be fatal. Always seek immediate attention if someone exhibits the signs of heat stroke: an altered mental state; throbbing headache, confusion, nausea, dizziness and/or shallow breathing; hot and dry skin, or excessive sweating; rapid pulse; and a high body temperature.
People with heat stroke must have professional medical attention. They should not be offered water, but a mister, fan or wet cloths may be used to bring down the body temperature while awaiting help.
If you aren’t sure if someone is experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke, seek medical help. In the case of heat stroke, delay can be fatal, so it is best to err on the side of caution.
Of course, children, disabled adults and pets should never be left unattended in the car, but in weather like we are experiencing right now, following that rule is literally the difference between life and death. Leaving the windows “cracked” does not affect the rate at which a car becomes an oven. On an 80-degree day, the temperature inside a car can become unsafe for children in as little as two minutes. Children’s bodies are not as efficient as adults’ at handling temperature changes.
In general, as you go about your day, there are steps you can take to keep cool. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips for hot-weather safety.
• Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding caffeinated, alcoholic and sugary drinks.
• Spend time in air conditioned spaces.
• Take cool baths or showers. A fan may make you more comfortable, but may not prevent heat-related illness.
• Check regularly on those most at risk of heat illness: children, seniors, those with chronic health issues like heart disease.
• Limit outdoor activities to the coolest part of the day. Cut back on outdoor exercise and be sure to drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids per hour.
• Wear lightweight, light-colored clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
• If you have a choice, opt for the shade, but if you will be in the sun, remember to wear your sunscreen, SPF 15 or higher.
Also remember that hot and humid weather can lead to quick thunderstorms that pop up and rain themselves out in no time. They may be accompanied by gusty winds and lightning. A sudden summer downburst can snap tree limbs and do other damage. Ferocious and fast, these storms should be treated with the respect we have for other severe storms.