Highs in the upper-80s for the first weekend in July might have had some Van Buren County residents asking “Where’s summer?” but the answer seems to be arriving. This week’s temperatures are forecast to be closer to normal, with highs in 90s accompanied by rising humidity. Meteorologists factor in the humidity along with the temperature to formulate the heat index, which provides a more accurate “feels-like” temperature for summer weather forecasts.
While this makes weather forecasters less popular and air-conditioning mechanics more popular, the heat index is serious business, especially when it is over the 90 degree mark.
According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), there was only one heat-related fatality in Arkansas in 2016, among 94 nationwide. The Arkansas Department of Health reports that 17 Arkansans died from heat-related causes in 2011. The summer heat wave of 1980, however, leads off NOAA’s Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters list. Covering a wide swath of the central and eastern United States this heat wave caused 1,260 deaths and had an estimated economic impact of $29.7 billion, including agriculture losses such as large numbers of death in the poultry industry.
One group particularly at risk during hot weather: Low income families and individuals.
While clicking down the thermostat a notch may seem like not a big deal for some, low income families and individuals often hesitate due to the possibility of a higher electric bill. In some instances, there is no air conditioner available and these families depend on fans, whether it is a box fan propped up in each window, or ceiling fans.
While there are programs available to help low income families and individuals with utility payments in the summer, often a shut-off notice from the utility company is required, which means these families have a short timeframe in which to obtain financial aid.
Besides applying for utility assistance the Centers for Disease Control recommends low income families take cool showers or baths, use microwaves and slow-cookers instead of ovens and stoves which tend to heat up kitchens and homes, and find air-conditioned places such as libraries, community cooling centers, restaurants, or shopping centers, to go to for a few hours during the hottest part of the day. While “go hang out someplace with air-conditioning” is a legitimate suggestion, it’s easier said than done for larger families or those without vehicles.
For some people reaching out to others for help is never easy, but it is a necessary part of surviving extreme weather: whether it is ice storms, tornadoes, or extreme summer heat.
According to the CDC the elderly are particularly at risk for heat related illnesses during the summer because they may have a chronic health condition, such as poor circulation or dementia, which makes it difficult for their body to respond to hot temperatures, or they may be taking medications that affect their body’s temperature.
Think about it: the older person who always complains about being cold or the older person who is out mowing their grass in the midday heat. In addition to the physical and financial logistics of being able to cool their home older folks may need extra assistance in the summer with outdoor chores such as mowing, getting groceries, or transportation to someplace with air conditioning. Sometimes just taking them a prepared meal, bottled water, or microwaveable meals, can be small ways to check in on older folks without being too intrusive.
While children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to heat related illnesses, even healthy athletic people are susceptible in the summer, particularly during outdoor recreational activities.
Muscle cramps are often one of the first signs of difficulty during hot weather and can be remedied with resting in a cool area, lightly stretching muscles, and drinking water every 15 minutes.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include nausea, headache, weakness, and dizziness, accompanied by profuse sweating, but with cool skin. Victims can appear either flushed or pale, and their body temperature may be normal, but could rise. Heat exhaustion can cause a mild form of shock and heat stroke. Again, treatment includes resting in a cool area and drinking water every 15 minutes, but also remove any tight clothing and apply cool (but not icy cold) wet cloths (washcloths, napkins, t-shirts, any fabric will do in a pinch), and monitor the victim for any changes in their health.
Heat stroke, also called sun stroke, can cause brain damage and death. Symptoms include hot, red skin, but no sweating, a weak or rapid pulse, rapid or shallow breathing, and a high body temperature. These are signs the body is no longer cooling itself. Again, move the person to a cooler place, apply cool cloths, and call 911.
Drinking plenty of sweet tea or icy soft drinks can be an appealing part of cooling off in the summer, but they may not be the healthiest ways to hydrate. The CDC recommends drinking water and sports drinks, even if you aren’t particularly thirsty. Wearing sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, loose fitting clothing, staying in the shade, limiting outdoor activities to late evening and early morning when the temperature is cooler, and taking frequent breaks, are all recommendations for those who must work outside during the summer months.
Also make sure pets have plenty of water and shade for the summer days.