Surviving the Extreme Heat

Aug 01, 2016 | By Jayleen R. Heft,


Xiuquin Huang carries her grandson Ruize Yan beneath an umbrella as she walks across the Brooklyn Bridge with her daughter and granddaughter Rina Wu, as excessive heat continued to blanket the Northeast on July 24. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP Photo)
Xiuquin Huang carries her grandson Ruize Yan beneath an umbrella as she walks across the Brooklyn Bridge with her daughter and granddaughter Rina Wu, as excessive heat continued to blanket the Northeast on July 24. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

It’s not your imagination, it’s been unusually hot across most of the country lately.

For the first time on record, every square inch of all 50 states is forecast to see above-average temperatures for the next three months, according to a forecast map from the federal government’s Climate Prediction Center, USA Today reported on July 26.

The heat has been so bad on the East Coast that President Obama personally warned Americans to “drink water, stay out of the sun, and check on your neighbors,” according to NBC News.

From uncomfortable to deadly

In 2013, 372 people died in the United States from exposure to excessive heat, according to “Injury Facts 2016,” the annual statistical report on unintentional injuries produced by the National Safety Council

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. Heat-related illnesses can escalate rapidly, leading to delirium, organ damage and even death.

Extreme temperatures not only impact human health, but can cause damage to homes, vehicles, and be dangerous for family pets.

So, what can you do to minimize the risks to health and property during heat waves? Check out the following reminders, resources and tips:

1. How to prepare homes for hot weather.

The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA website recommends the following tips to prepare your home for excessive heat:

  • 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), such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside.
  • Weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air in.
  • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings, or louvers. (Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent.)
  • Keep storm windows up all year.

car breakdown

                                                    Extreme heat can take its toll of vehicle components. (Photo: iStock)

2. Vehicle breakdowns can spike in extreme heat.

Experts recommend checking the engine coolant and other fluids, plus tire pressure to help you avoid being stranded on the side of the road during hot weather. AAA warns that extreme heat can take its toll of vehicle components.

WAVY-TV in Virginia recently reported that the oppressive heat is keeping the local AAA busy. The agency has more than 50 drivers on the road during peak times and each truck has been responding to 9 to 17 calls per day.

Glenn Robinson, a supervisor based out of the AAA Virginia Beach office, reportedly said many of the cars they service on the roadside are less than 10-years-old. Robinson says car batteries in newer cars deteriorate faster because of the added technology in vehicles.

Robinson says drivers should be careful if their car battery gives off a rotten egg smell. “If you smell that sulfuric gas smell, don’t try to start the car. Call us out there. Don’t try to jump start it, because that is a very explosive gas.”

Also, don’t forget to protect your vehicle’s interior. Too much heat is harmful seats, carpets, covers, steering wheel and dashboards.

Child in car

There is now car seat technology available that will sound an alarm after the driver turns off the car, reminding him or her that a child is in the back seat. (Photo: iStock)

3. At least 23 kids have died in hot cars this year.

On average, 37 children die each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside vehicles. Even the best of parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave a sleeping baby in a car — and the end result can be injury or even death.

A 3-year-old died on Sunday, July 24, 2016, in Dallas, Texas, marking the 21st child to die in a car in the U.S. this year, according to U.S. News and World Report. The child was left in the car while his father went to a Bible study at a local church in the Dallas area, where temperatures reached 98 degrees, according to the Washington Post.

On June 18, 3-year-old twins died after they were found in a pickup truck outside their home in Louisiana, according to a local news source.

The National Safety Council says to never leave a child unattended in a car. If you see an unattended child in a car, call 911 immediately.

Tragic mistakes

In the majority of cases of child heatstroke fatality — 53 percent — parents simply forgot their child was in the car, according to Babies sleep soundly, and parents are stressed and often rushing to get to work or complete errands. These horrendous incidents happen to people from all walks of life.

New car seat technology is available that will sound an alarm after the driver turns off the car, reminding him or her that a child is in the back seat. offers other suggestions for keeping your precious cargo safe:

  • Keep a stuffed animal in the child’s seat, then move it to the front seat after you strap your child in as a visual reminder.
  • If your daily routine changes, always make sure your child has arrived at his destination safely.
  • Make sure daycare providers know to call parents or relatives if the child does not arrive.
  • Never leave a child alone in a car; use drive-through services and pay at the pump so you won’t be tempted to leave the child “just for a moment.”
  • Remember, children overheat four times faster than adults; a child is likely to die when his body temperature reaches 107 degrees, and that can happen in minutes.
  • Even in 70-degree weather a vehicle can reach life-threatening temperatures quickly; regardless of the outside temperature, the average increase in temperature inside a vehicle is 3.2 degrees per five-minute interval.
  • If you ever see a child alone in a car, call 911 immediately.
  • If you see a child is in distress, remove the child from the vehicle; most states have Good Samaritan laws.

Heat stroke

Drink plenty of water during hot weather to avoid heat-related illness. (Photo: iStock)

4. Key safety tips during extreme heat.
recommends the following hot weather safety tips:

» Drink plenty of water — even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine. Persons who have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease; are on fluid-restricted diets; or have a problem with fluid retention should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.

» Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.

» Check 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.

» Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power during periods of extreme heat. Stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine if air conditioning is not available.

» Check the weather/listen to NOAA Weather Radio for critical updates from the National Weather Service.

» Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat, and take frequent breaks.

» Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.

» Protect face and head by wearing sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat.

» Postpone outdoor games and activities.

» Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.

» Eat well-balanced, light, and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.

» Limit intake of alcoholic beverages.

» Avoid extreme temperature changes.

» Consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and other community facilities. Circulating air can cool the body by increasing the perspiration rate of evaporation.

» Download the FEMA App for heat advisories and safety tips.

» Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).

Workers spreading hot asphalt

Federal law requires that employers protect workers from extreme heat. (Photo: iStock)

5. Employers must protect workers from excessive heat.

In 2014 alone, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

Under OSHA rules, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program. OSHA recommends the following guidelines:

  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
  • Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness.

Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep this in mind and plan additional precautions for working in these conditions.

To prevent heat-related illness and fatalities on the job:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty.
  • Rest in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
  • Keep an eye on fellow workers.
  • “Easy does it” on your first days of work in the heat. You need to get used to it.

Dry riverbed

Drought increases the risk of other hazards such as wildfire, flash flood, and possible landslides and debris flow. (Photo: iStock)

6. Drought is affecting more than 15% of the U.S.

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System , as of July 19, Moderate to Exceptional drought is affecting about 15.7 percent of the area of the United States, impacting 99.4 million people.

Drought creates environmental conditions that increase the risk of other hazards such as wildfire, flash flood, and possible landslides and debris flow.

Always observe state and local restrictions on water use during a drought. If restricted, for example, don’t water your lawn, wash your car, or other nonessential uses, to help ensure there is enough water for essential uses.

Dry crop field

Severe drought has resulted in significantly lower crop yields in some parts of the U.S. (Photo: iStock)

7. Crop losses from drought and heat.

Multiple peril insurance covers loss of crop value as a result of natural disasters, including drought and unusually hot weather.

While multiple peril insurance covers most economically significant agricultural crops grown in the U.S. — more than 100 crops — insurance for a specific crop may not be available in every state or in every county within a state. Most crops for which there is not yet coverage are eligible for the limited protection offered by the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Significantly lower crop yields

According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), data from the Federal Crop Insurance Corp. for the crop year 2012, show that indemnities (claim payments) totaled nearly $17 billion, the result of the severe drought that has resulted in significantly lower crop yields, but this was partially offset by more than $11 billion in premiums paid by farmers for catastrophic and regular coverage. The government’s coverage subsidy came to $6.9 billion.

The USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) has developed programs for pasture, rangeland, forage (PRF) and hay to provide a safety net for farmers who face drought conditions. There are two programs: the Rainfall Index program and the Vegetation Index — both use indexes and grids that are smaller than counties to determine expected losses.

The Rainfall program is based on accumulated rainfall and the Vegetation program relies on satellite images to measure departures from expected losses in a given grid area.

Heat stroke

A senior citizen collapses from heat stroke and lies on the ground while paramedics rush to the scene. (Photo: iStock)

8. How to treat heat-related illnesses.

According to the American Red Cross, people are susceptible to three heat-related conditions during heat waves. Here’s how to recognize and respond to them:

Heat cramps. Muscular pains and spasms that usually occur in the legs or abdomen. Heat cramps are often an early sign that the body is having trouble with the heat.

  • Get the person to a cooler place and have him or her rest in a comfortable position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and gently massage the area.
  • Give an electrolyte-containing fluid, such as a commercial sports drink, fruit juice or milk. Water may also be given. Do not give the person salt tablets.

Heat exhaustion. A more severe condition than heat cramps. Heat exhaustion often affects athletes, firefighters, construction workers and factory workers. It also affects those wearing heavy clothing in a hot, humid environment.

  • Signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale, ashen or flushed skin; headache; nausea; dizziness; weakness; and exhaustion.
  • Move the person to a cooler environment with circulating air. Remove or loosen as much clothing as possible and apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. Fanning or spraying the person with water also can help. If the person is conscious, give small amounts of a cool fluid such as a commercial sports drink or fruit juice to restore fluids and electrolytes. Milk or water may also be given. Give about 4 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes.
  • If the person’s condition does not improve or if he or she refuses water, has a change in consciousness, or vomits, call 911 or the local emergency number.

Heat stroke. A life-threatening condition that usually occurs by ignoring the signals of heat exhaustion. Heat stroke develops when the body systems are overwhelmed by heat and begin to stop functioning.

  • Signs of heat stroke include extremely high body temperature, red skin which may be dry or moist; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; rapid, shallow breathing; confusion; vomiting; and seizures.
  • Heat stroke is life-threatening. Call 911 or the local emergency number immediately.
  • Rapidly cool the body by immersing the person up to the neck in cold water, if possible OR douse or spray the person with cold water.
  • Sponge the person with ice water-doused towels over the entire body, frequently rotating the cold, wet towels.
  • Cover the person with bags of ice.
  • If you are not able to measure and monitor the person’s temperature, apply rapid cooling methods for 20 minutes or until the person’s condition improves.

Dog in a pool

Pets respond differently to heat than humans do. (Photo: iStock)

9. Keep pets safe in the heat.

The summer months can be uncomfortable and dangerous for people and pets. The Humane Society of the United States offers the following tips for keeping your pets healthy and comfortable when temperatures rise:

Never leave your pets in a parked car. Not even for a minute. On an 85-degree day, for example, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. Your pet may suffer irreversible organ damage or die. What to do if you see a pet in a parked car.

Limit exercise on hot days. On very hot days, limit exercise to early morning or evening hours, and be especially careful with pets with white-colored ears, who are more susceptible to skin cancer, and short-nosed pets, who typically have difficulty breathing. Asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet’s paws, so walk your dog on the grass if possible. Always carry water with you to keep your dog from dehydrating.

Don’t rely on a fan. Pets respond differently to heat than humans do. Dogs, for instance, sweat primarily through their feet. And fans don’t cool off pets as effectively as they do people.

Provide ample shade and water. Any time your pet is outside, make sure he or she has protection from heat and sun and plenty of fresh, cold water. In heat waves, add ice to water when possible. Tree shade and tarps are ideal because they don’t obstruct air flow. A doghouse does not provide relief from heat — in fact, it makes it worse.

Cool your pet inside and out. Keep your pet from overheating indoors or out with a cooling body wrap, vest, or mat (such as the Keep Cool Mat). Soak these products in cool water, and they’ll stay cool (but usually dry) for up to three days. If your dog doesn’t find baths stressful, see if she enjoys a cooling soak.

Signs of heatstroke in pets

Extreme temperatures can cause heatstroke in pets. Some signs of heatstroke are:

  • Heavy panting.
  • Glazed eyes.
  • A rapid heartbeat.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Excessive thirst.
  • Lethargy.
  • Fever.
  • Dizziness.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Profuse salivation.
  • Vomiting.
  • A deep red or purple tongue.
  • Seizure.
  • Unconsciousness.

Animals are at particular risk for heat stroke if they are very old, very young, overweight, not conditioned to prolonged exercise, or have heart or respiratory disease. Some breeds of dogs — like Boxers, Pugs, Shih Tzus, and other dogs and cats with short muzzles — will have a much harder time breathing in extreme heat.

The American Red Cross recommends you do the following if you suspect pet heat stroke:

  1. Get your dog out of direct heat.
  2. Check for shock. Signs include collapse; body temperature 104 degrees Fahrenheit or above; bloody diarrhea or vomit; depression stupor; seizures or coma; excessive panting or difficulty breathing; increased heart rate; salivation.
  3. Take your dog’s temperature.
  4. Spray your dog with cool water then retake temperature.
  5. Place water-soaked towels on the dog’s head, neck, feet, chest and abdomen. Turn on a fan and point it in your dog’s direction. Rub Isopropyl alcohol (70 percent) of the dog’s foot pads to help cool him, but don’t use large quantities.
  6. Take your dog to the nearest veterinary hospital.

The goal is always to decrease the dog’s body temperature to 103° F in the first 10-15 minutes. Once 103° F is reached, you must stop the cooling process because the body temperature will continue to decrease and can plummet dangerously low if you continue to cool the dog for too long.

Even if you successfully cool your pet down to 103° F in the first 10-15 minutes, you must take the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible because consequences of heat stroke will not show up for hours or even days. Potential problems include abnormal heart rhythms, kidney failure, neurological problems and respiratory arrest.

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