Killer Heat Waves: What to Know to Stay Safe As Records Break Around the World
By Nicole Fisher
It’s been a deadly start to summer due to heat waves around the world, with deaths recorded across the U.S. and the U.K. related to the record temperatures. Within the last few days, the United Kingdom broke single day records in multiple countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, and France – with all three reaching around 105 degrees (Fahrenheit). Washington, D.C. got almost as hot as Death Valley, California. And wildfires are raging in the Arctic, with northern Siberia, Scandinavia, Greenland and even Alaska fires visible from space.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths over the last 30 years. And, as the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. bake, more than 195 million Americans could be in danger without proper planning and knowledge about the effects of heat. This is particularly true for vulnerable populations like the elderly, young children, and those without air conditioning (a problem that has been plaguing European nations), as well as pets.
What You Need To Know To Stay Safe:
- If you know someone who doesn’t have access to air conditioning, check in on them regularly. And that means day and night, as temperatures are still above average during the evening. If you yourself do not have air conditioning, during the hottest parts of the day frequently get yourself someplace cool – visit a library, mall or theatre.
- 21 children in the U.S. have already died in 2019 from being left in hot cars. Do not leave children, those with disabilities, or animals inside a car alone during these hot summer months. Hot cars can reach 120 degrees (Fahrenheit) within minutes.
- Stay hydrated. And that means water. Be sure to drink it regularly throughout the day, and avoid waiting until you’re thirsty. If you struggle to get enough water, there are plenty of ways to get creative so you keep up your H2O intake.
- Both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, causing your body to lose water more rapidly, thus putting you in greater danger. If you do imbibe, use them in moderation if you are exposed to high temperatures.
- If you must (or choose) to work or play outside, take frequent breaks. Men account for more than half of health-related fatalities and should put off outdoor work until the sun has set or cooler weather moves in. Men particularly between 50-79 are the most susceptible to heat illnesses. When working outdoors, check in with a buddy or trade-off work shifts with someone. For all others, avoid exercising between 8am and 8pm unless you are indoors.
- Learn the different signs and symptoms of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke – the latter of which can be very deadly. When the body’s ability to cool itself stops working, body temperatures can rise to the point of causing brain damage and death. If someone begins to exhibit a temperature above 103 degrees (Fahrenheit), headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion or is unconscious, call 911 and move the person to a cooler location.
- Minimize the use of heat-generating appliances such as microwaves and ovens in your home or office. Not only will it save you the pain of being hot, but your neighbors will also thank you. Especially in shared living or office spaces.
- Wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothing. Dark colors absorb the sun’s heat and anything tight or thick can seal in sweat and heat. And take cool showers or baths if you feel like you’ve gotten too hot.
- Pets need to be checked on and attended to frequently. They can also suffer heat stroke with fatal consequences if not cared for properly. Ensure that they have access to cool water at all times when possible.
- Check the local news and weather resources available to you. Watch for updates and listen for notices that could impact you and your family. These might extend to infrastructure challenges. For example, metal tracks on railways buckle at 122 degrees (Fahrenheit) and London Heathrow has been forced to cancel flights, both impacting public transportation. Roads and public spaces might also close to maintain public safety. So be sure to stay on top of your local news.
- For more information on the signs and symptoms of Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke visit the CDC’s resource website.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a free heat safety app that can be used as a resource.
- Coaches of youth sport teams can find resources from the American Red Cross for “best practices” in heat-related first aid situations.
- National Safety Council resources can be found here.