Beat the Extreme Heat: Tips for Surviving Hot Weather

It’s Summer. And for those of us in the northern hemisphere, that means heat (unless you go too far north, of course). We published an article back in May called Beat the Heat: Staying Safe When Temperatures Rise that gives a great overview of heat-related issues and four basic tips for warmer weather. But what about extreme heat? The kind that’s not normal summer weather, but can actually be classified as a natural disaster.

The Dangers of Extreme Heat

In extreme heat (especially combined with high humidity), the body struggles to maintain a normal temperature, causing heat-related illnesses. Additionally, the elderly and young children are more susceptible to problems associated with extreme heat (as are those who are sick, pregnant, or overweight). Extreme heat is often associated with stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality, which means people living in urban areas may be at greater risk during a prolonged heat wave than those in rural areas. An additional problem with heat in urban areas is the amount of asphalt and concrete. Those materials store heat longer and gradually release it at night, which can raise the nighttime temperatures as well, which prevents cooling. So, what can you do to stay safe? Plenty.

Before Extreme Heat

Like any natural disaster, it’s important to prepare before it happens. Here are some things you can do:
  • Make sure you have an emergency kit and that extreme heat is covered in your family’s emergency plans.
  • Be prepared to administer first aid for heat-related emergencies
  • Know the risks of heat-related illness and be aware of those who are most susceptible in your neighborhood (elderly, young, sick, pregnant, overweight).
  • If living in an urban area, realize that you may be at greater risk from the effects of extreme heat, especially if prolonged.
  • Be aware of upcoming weather events and temperature changes.
    • Prepare your home
      • Install window air conditioners snugly and insulate if necessary
      • Check your air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation
      • Weather-strip doors and sills to prevent cool air leakage
      • Cover windows that receive a lot of sun with drapes, shades, awnings, etc.
      • Keep storm windows up all year.
      • Install temporary window reflectors (such as aluminum foil) to reflect heat back outside. Place between windows and drapes.

During Extreme Heat

Once you have done your best to prepare, what can you do while a heat wave is raging?
  • Listen or watch for critical updates from the National Weather Service (radio, internet, or television)
  • Never leave pets or children alone in closed vehicles (this applies year round, of course, not just during extreme heat waves).
  • Stay indoors as much as possible, and limit exposure to the sun.
    • If you must go outside, avoid extreme temperature changes (cold air-conditioned house to extreme heat outside) by acclimating yourself before going outside and by wearing light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes, and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Postpone outdoor games and activities, and consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings where there is more air circulation (which can increase the evaporation rate of perspiration).
  • Drink plenty of water (even if you’re not thirsty) and eat well-balanced, light, and regular meals.
    • If you’re on a fluid-restricted diet, make sure you talk to your physician before increasing your intake.
  • Limit intake of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. These types of drinks can cause you to become dehydrated very easily.
  • Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. If you must work outdoors during extreme heat, don’t do it alone, make use of the buddy system, take frequent breaks, and stay hydrated.
  • Check on friends, family, and neighbors who may not have air-conditioning and who spend much of their time alone. Also check on pets frequently to ensure they are not suffering from the heat.
  • If your home loses power during extreme heat, go to a designated public cooling center. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to Replace the nearest shelter, or check you city’s website.
Extreme heat is dangerous and potentially deadly. Take time now to be prepared for any heat wave that may come your way. For more tips check out FEMA's website at Have you experienced extreme heat? What did you do to prepare and what did you do to stay safe during the heat wave? -Michelle
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