Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of
fatalities each year. In fact, on average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. In the disastrous heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died. In the heat wave of 1995 more than 700 deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to heat. In August 2003, a record heat wave in Europe claimed an estimated 50,000 lives.
North American summers are hot; most summers see heat waves in one or more parts of the United States. East of the Rockies, they tend to combine both high temperature and high humidity, although some of the worst heat waves have been catastrophically dry.
Excessive Heat Outlooks: are issued when the potential exists for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days. An Outlook provides information to those who need considerable lead time to prepare for the event, such as public utility staff, emergency managers and public health officials. See the mean heat index and probability forecasts maps.
Excessive Heat Watches: are issued when conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event in the next 24 to 72 hours. A Watch is used when the risk of a heat wave has increased but its occurrence and timing is still uncertain. A Watch provides enough lead time so that those who need to prepare can do so, such as cities officials who have excessive heat event mitigation plans.
Excessive Heat Warning/Advisories are issued when an excessive heat event is expected in the next 36 hours. These products are issued when an excessive heat event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occuring. 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.
NOAA's heat alert procedures are based mainly on Heat Index Values. The Heat Index, sometimes referred to as the apparent temperature is given in degrees Fahrenheit. The Heat Index is a measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored with the actual air temperature.
To find the Heat Index temperature, look at the Heat Index chart below. As an example, if the air temperature is 96°F and the relative humidity is 65%, the heat index--how hot it feels--is 121°F. The Weather Service will initiate alert procedures when the Heat Index is expected to exceed 105°-110°F (depending on local climate) for at least 2 consecutive days.
IMPORTANT: Since heat index values were devised for shady, light wind conditions, exposure to full sunshine can increase heat index values by up to 15°F. also, strong winds, particularly with very hot, dry air, can be extremely hazardous.
The Heat Index Chart shaded zone above 105°F shows a level that may cause increasingly severe heat disorders with continued exposure or physical activity.
When the body heats too quickly to cool itself safely, or when you lose too much fluid or salt through dehydration or sweating, your body temperature rises and heat-related illness may develop. Heat disorders share one common feature: the individual has been in the heat too long or exercised too much for his or her age and physical condition.
Studies indicate that, other things being equal, the severity of heat disorders tends to increase with age. Conditions that cause heat cramps in a 17-year-old may result in heat exhaustion in someone 40 years old, and in heat stroke in a person over 60. Sunburn, with its ultraviolet radiation burns, can significantly retard the skin's ability to shed excess heat. Acclimatization has to do with adjusting sweat-salt concentrations, among other things. The idea is to lose enough water to regulate body temperature, with the least possible chemical disturbance--salt depletion.
Each year, dozens of children left in parked vehicles die from hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is an acute condition that occurs when the body absorbs more heat than it can handle. Hyperthermia can occur even on a mild day. Studies have shown that the temperature inside a parked vehicle can rapidly rise to a dangerous level for children, pets and even adults. Leaving the windows slightly open does not significantly decrease the heating rate. The effects can be more severe on children because their bodies warm at a faster rate than adults.
Courtesy of Golden Gate Weather Services.
Shown below is a time lapse photo of a thermometer reading in a car over a period of less than an hour. As the photograph shows, in just over 2 minutes the car went from a safe temperature to 94.3°F. These photos demonstrate just how quickly a vehicle can become a death trap for a child.
Animation Courtesy of General Motors and Golden Gate Weather Services. Use of this animation does not imply NWS endorsement of services provided by General Motors and Golden Gate Weather Services.
Hyperthermia deaths aren't confined to summer months. They also happen during the spring and fall. Below are some examples.
Adults are in danger too. On July 12, 2001, a man died of heatstroke after falling asleep in his car with the windows rolled up in the parking lot of a supermarket in Hinds County, MS.
The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively transparent to the sun’s shortwave radiation (yellow in figure below) and are warmed little. This shortwave energy, however, does heat objects it strikes. For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180°F to more than 200°F. These objects, e.g., dashboard, steering wheel, childseat, heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection and give off longwave radiation (infrared), which efficiently warms the air trapped inside a vehicle.
Child Safety Tips
SUNBURN: Redness and pain. In severe cases swelling of skin, blisters, fever, headaches. First Aid: Ointments for mild cases if blisters appear and do not break. If breaking occurs, apply dry sterile dressing. Serious, extensive cases should be seen by physician.
HEAT CRAMPS: Painful spasms usually in the muscles of legs and abdomen with heavy sweating. First Aid: Firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water.
HEAT EXHAUSTION: Heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale, clammy skin; thready pulse; fainting and vomiting but may have normal temperature. First Aid: Get victim out of sun. Once inside, the person should lay down and loosen his or her clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to air conditioned room. Offer sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention.
HEAT STROKE (or sunstroke): High body temperature (106° F or higher), hot dry skin, rapid and strong pulse, possible unconsciousness. First Aid: HEAT STROKE IS A SEVERE MEDICAL EMERGENCY. SUMMON EMERGENCY MEDICAL ASSISTANCE OR GET THE VICTIM TO A HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY. DELAY CAN BE FATAL. While waiting for emergency assistance, move the victim to a cooler environment reduce body temperature with cold bath or sponging. Use extreme caution. Remove clothing, use fans and air conditioners. If temperature rises again, repeat process. Do NOT give fluids. Persons on salt restrictive diets should consult a physician before increasing their salt intake.
For more information contact your local American Red Cross Chapter. Ask to enroll in a first aid course.