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A Heat Dome is Baking Parts of North America and Brownouts are Possible. Here’s What to do If It Happens to You.
Say what you will about pandemics, climate change continues to emerge as an ongoing threat that could be the greatest natural disaster in our future. The recent heatwaves across the Pacific-Northwest and Canada have spiked temperatures well into the 100’s and hundreds of people have died while the heavy and unexpected use of air conditioning is starting to put a strain on an already fragile power grid.
I know some of you are going to leave comments about how climate change isn’t real. I’ll only say this: If you don’t believe humans are causing climate change, that’s fine. It doesn’t change the fact that we are seeing record-high temperatures all around the world every single year.
In fact, the last five years were the hottest five on record. If this continues, droughts and heatwaves are going to become even more common. So whether humans are causing it or whether it’s part of a natural cycle, it’s something we should all be preparing for.
Here are the symptom of heat stress and what to do to stay cool and keep yourself, friends, and family healthy and alive when the heat becomes dangerous, especially if you’re without power.
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Signs of Heat Stress and Dehydration
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are 3 heat-related syndromes, with heat cramps being the mildest followed by heat exhaustion and heatstroke being the most severe.
According to the CDC, heat cramps are the first sign of serious heat related stress and if treated immediately, can prevent the onset of more serious effects.
- Heavy sweating during exertion
- Muscle pain or spasms
Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity, and strenuous physical activity. Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition. Fortunately, heat exhaustion is preventable.
- Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
- Heavy sweating
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Low blood pressure upon standing
- Muscle cramps
Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to, or physical exertion in high temperatures. The most serious form of heat injury, heatstroke, can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher. The condition is most common in the summer months.
Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death.
- High body temperature of 104 or more
- Altered mental state or behavior
- Alteration in sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flushed skin
- Rapid breathing
- Racing heart rate
Recognizing the signs of these heat-related illnesses is especially important if you care for children, the elderly, or pets. If you notice any symptoms of heat-related illness, it’s important that you act quickly to help cool the victim down.
General Tips to Keep Children Safe in the Heat
According to the Harvard Medical School:
- Limit time in direct sunlight (especially during midday hours). Look for shade or make your own with umbrellas, tents, or wide-brimmed hats.
- Bring water along whenever you are going to be outside in the sun — for drinking as well as putting on the skin to cool down.
- Keep an eye on the forecast as you plan outdoor activities, especially active ones; check the temperature and the humidity, and plan accordingly.
- Take plenty of rest breaks and use them as a chance to check to see how everyone is doing with the heat. Every child is different; some may be fine when others are getting into trouble.
Medical experts also recommend checking in on friends and loved ones who live alone, especially those who are considered vulnerable, such as the elderly.
And don’t forget livestock, either. You can cool animals by giving them a cool bath, but making sure your animals have plenty of water to drink is the best thing you can do to protect them. Their instincts are good and they’ll seek shade and cool ground, but they often depend on you for water.
Dealing With the Heat
There’s a long list of ways to stay cool, especially if you’re without air-conditioning or electricity. Here are 7 major actions you can take with specifics for each.
1. Stay Hydrated
The common recommendation is to drink lots of water. That’s a good idea, but unfortunately, there’s more to hydration than just H20. Electrolytes are the key to effective hydration. Electrolytes are minerals—sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and bicarbonate—that carry electrical charges in your body. This electricity conduction allows cells to communicate, including brain cells
Sodium and potassium are the chief fluid-balancing electrolytes. Sodium helps balance fluids outside cells and potassium helps balance fluids inside of cells.
One of the recommendations for effective hydration is a home-brewed electrolyte drink made with water and the following.
- 1000 mg sodium
- 200 mg potassium
- 60 mg magnesium
Sodium is easy. It’s salt. 1000 milligrams is about a ½ teaspoon. Any salt will do. You can find potassium in potassium citrate powder sold at a pharmacy or online. The magnesium comes from magnesium malate, also at the pharmacy or online.
The standard recipe calls for these minerals to be added and stirred into 1 quart of water. That proportion will give you an electrolyte drink that will do the best job of satisfying your thirst and helping to offset any heat-related illnesses. The packages will tell you how to measure the proportions to convert milligrams to conventional measures like fractions of a teaspoon.
You could also buy a premixed electrolyte powder that you can add to any beverage.
There are also many commercial electrolyte products sold as beverages from Gatorade to Smart Water to Powerade that provide electrolytes as well. Some people don’t like the added sugar and artificial flavors and colors, but they all do an effective job of restoring and maintaining good fluid balance.
Fluid balance is what keeps your blood flowing, your eyes moist with tears, your sweat glands functional, and your whole body working like it’s supposed to.
2. Find or Create Shade
It will feel cooler, although here’s something many don’t know. In the shade, you may feel 10-15 degrees cooler, but the temperature is the exact same as the temperature in full sunlight. Shade only feels cooler because you are avoiding solar radiation. In reality, the temperature in the sun is the same as the temperature in the shade.
However, solar radiation can make a huge difference in how you might feel about the temperature. When in the shade, your skin is not being “heated” by the sun’s rays, so your skin and your body feel a more comfortable temperature. When you’re outside and not under shade of some kind, solar radiation warms the skin and makes your body’s natural ways of cooling down less effective.
Think in terms of umbrellas, tents, dining canopies, trees, covered porches and decks, gazebos or anything else that creates some shade.
Here’s the telegram: wear cotton, dress light, short sleeves and shorts are a good idea, and don’t forget the sunscreen. Clothing designed for hot areas sometimes have vents, a loose weave and are intentionally baggy or flowing so they don’t cling to the skin.
Light colored clothing is best. White is ideal. The darker the color of the clothing, the more it will absorb solar radiation and increase perspiration and body heat.
4. Seek Cool Locations
It’s not just about shade. A spring creek running through the woods will provide its own air-conditioning. A basement of a home is always cooler than the second floor, although a second floor shaded patio or deck may have more exposure to a breeze.
Here are some other things you can do around the house when the heat gets high outside:
- Seal off the hottest rooms. You probably aren’t going to spend a lot of time in those rooms anyway and all they’re doing is pumping heat into the rest of the house. Close the door and just stay out until the heat wave passes. Upstairs rooms often are the biggest heat generators.
- Sleep downstairs. Sealing off hot rooms is a good idea, but most of those hot rooms upstairs are probably bedrooms. Maybe it’s time to camp out in your house and spend some time sleeping downstairs or even the basement. We’ve all slept on the couch a few times, and a heat wave may be the best reason.
- Sleep outside. Got a screened porch? Hit the hammock. The only real challenges may be from rain and mosquitoes, but temperatures are almost always cooler at night.
- Open the windows at night. Take advantage of the cooler air and open your windows at night. Don’t forget to close them in the morning if the heat persists.
- Keep the curtains closed during the day. You can buy heat blocking curtains at some stores or online. They prevent sunlight from coming into a room, although most any curtain will do the same.
- Minimize opening and closing doors. That’s hard to do with a houseful of kids, but anytime you open a door, cooler indoor air tumbles out and outside heat floats in.
- Check windows and doors for air leaks. Whether its summer or winter, air leaks let in the outside air. If it’s real hot or real cold, you don’t want that. Summer is actually a good time to look for air leaks and either caulk the gaps or use some tape for a short term fix.
- When to seek out a cooling shelter. If you live in an apartment and there is no way to find relief, you could consider a local cooling shelter. Communities will often set them up during heat waves. You could also spend some quality time at a library or other location that’s air-conditioned and open to the public.
5. Get Proactive
Beyond common sense steps like staying effectively hydrated, seeking shade and cool locations, and dressing for the weather, you can take additional steps to keep cool.
- Rechargeable, battery-powered fans. They’re all over the Internet across a variety of sizes and can provide a breeze when there’s no wind or electricity. Most are recharged with a USB plug so you can use a small solar power bank or even your car if it has a USB port to keep your fan charged. And don’t forget. Most cars have an air-conditioner in an emergency.
- Attach a Wet Bandana to Your Head. If you’re outside you could tie a wet bandana across your forehead or around your neck. It’s when our brain gets affected by the heat that we’re at the greatest risk and a wet bandana makes sense.
- Go for a swim. Whether it’s a lake, river or swimming pool it’s the fastest way to cool down.
- Water on your wrists and ankles. This is a standard medical treatment for heat related conditions. Our wrists and ankles have numerous veins circulating blood and immersing them into cold water or even ice water can help to cool the blood and circulate it through your system.
- Cover your head and neck. There are a variety of hats designed for the heat. Some have an extension that covers and protects the neck. Most are vented.
- Cooling towelettes. Only provides short-term relief, but cooling towelettes are not a bad idea, especially if you have kids to think about.
A lot of this has to do with ovens and range tops and the heat that results. Here are some common sense solutions.
- Cook outside. Many of us do this during any summer, but a heat wave is the best time to keep the cooking outdoors. Especially anything you would cook in an oven.
- Create a summer kitchen. It’s not that hard to do. Start by creating a dedicated space for grills and maybe some options for storing tools, charcoal, and propane, and make that your regular kitchen. Pioneers did it as a standard practice.
- Eat cold food. Cereals, salads, sandwiches, fruits and vegetables—think cool foods that don’t require indoor cooking and will also help you stay cool.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. And it’s not because coffee is hot. They’re both diuretics which will cause you to lose water rather than retain it.
7. Thinking Long-Term
If heat problems persist or you live in an area where heat is a chronic challenge or electricity is non-existent or unreliable, there are some long-term solutions to consider.
- Invest in a generator. This can keep the refrigerator/freezer running, more than a few fans, and even an air conditioner. There are also solar solutions, but a generator is a quick fix for any future power or heat problems.
- Install air-circulating vents in your home. Native people in the American Southwest had small vents at the base of their adobe homes and towards the top of some rooms that allowed cooler ground level air to be drawn in by the rising warm air exiting through the top vents. There are many primitive solutions like this that you can consider even if it’s just to keep cool air circulating in a chicken coop.
- Buy a swimming pool. You can erect an above ground pool or go all-in and have an in-ground pool installed. If you’ve ever flown over the American Southwest you’ve no doubt noticed the sparkle of swimming pools in almost every backyard. There’s a reason.
It’s going to be interesting to see if the heat patterns we’re experiencing this summer become a regular event. Heat domes are a common meteorological occurrence. What’s concerning is that they have never moved this far North in the recent past and it seems like it may be another example of how climate change is affecting annual weather patterns.
If that’s the case, we may have more to worry about than electrolytes and bandanas around our necks. Especially when we can’t move farther north to beat the heat.
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