Survive the Next Heat Wave

A quick look at summer weather forecasts warns us of a dangerous summer for 2012. The Farmers Almanac stated:

“Look for a hot spell just about everywhere in late June, with temperatures soaring into the 100s in many areas, followed by stormy weather that will hopefully cool things down. The heat will remain turned up across North America in July, with unsettled conditions, thunderstorms, and another exceptional heat wave toward the middle of the month.

Temperatures will stay high moving into August, with more thunderstorms, except in the plains, where things should stay relatively dry.”

Sure enough, we have just seen very hot temperatures in late June adding to run away fire dangers and deaths.

The National Weather Service predicts: “The outlook for 2012 temperature indicates enhanced odds for above normal temperatures for much of the continental United States, except for parts of the northern plains and along much of the west coast. Above normal temperatures are favored in northern Alaska, with the chances of below normal temperatures enhances in coastal regions of southwestern and southern Alaska.”

These shifts in temperature are normal and to be expected periodically. During the summer of 1932 the United States baked. Most states experienced 100 F temperatures. North Dakota recorded 121F, California 126 F, and115 – 120F were common across the central plains.

A record heat wave swept Europe during August 2003. By the time the siege was over 35,000 had lost their lives. In France 14,802 people died, more than 19 times the worldwide death toll recorded during the SARS epidemic.

The summer of 2006 brought to North America a heat wave that left the USA and Canada reeling. From July 15th to August 27th its death toll was 225. Knowing what we know now, no family should be unprepared when it comes again.

From July 15th to July 22nd 2006, unusually high temperatures spread across most all of the United States and Canada. On Monday, July 17th , every one of the lower 48 states reached 90F (32C) or above, except for North Dakota, which had reached 104F (40C) the day before. No section of the continental United States was spared. A windstorm in St. Louis caused power outages lasting several days, shutting down their cooling centers for poor and elderly, and leaving everyone without a way to cool off.

A power outage in Southern California left families without power for four days as temperatures reached 114F (45C) in parts of Los Angeles. Transformers literally burned up from the overload, and whole sections of the grid went down. Neighborhoods were left without power for the fridge, the freezer, the A/C, the TV, the stereo, and the internet. There were no microwaves to cook a meal or warm a baby bottle, and no ice to cool off. Fire danger went up. People could not sleep at night with no A/C and no breeze. Tempers flared. It was a scorcher!

As of July 17, 2008, there had been 20 deaths due to heat in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. Heat related deaths have also been reported in New Jersey, Maryland, New York and California. A water park in Sacramento, California was forced to close for two days as excessive temperatures were causing illness to employees and park guests.


This past week saw record heat in much of the country coupled with storms and power outages which had 4 million people without power dealing with record temperatures.

Don’t be caught unprepared to care for your family during a heatwave.


Following are a few steps you can take to help make heat waves a little more bearable:

  1. It’s O.K. to raid your 72 hour kit… That’s right, 72 hour kits are not just for earthquakes and hurricanes but for any emergency. Your kit should include Instant Cold Packs. Now is the time to use these to help cool an overheated person or to help cool the body so you can sleep. Place them on the neck or forehead for the best results. Mylar Blankets placed in the sunniest windows will cut down on the heat entering your home. Move the blankets as the sun moves or just leave them in place. These blankets are also large enough to cover a sliding door without piecing. You will be amazed at how quickly the temperature in a room will drop when you cover your windows with these blankets. Mylar blankets are also great to use outdoors to create shade as they reflect the sun’s rays.
  2. Get wet. Take a shower and don’t dry your hair, take a dip in the pool and don’t dry off (if the pool is in the sun don’t stay in too long), run through the sprinkler, keep a spray bottle nearby and mist your face (also great for your complexion), use wet compresses on your neck or head, keep a wet washcloth by your bed to cool yourself through the night, wrap your head in a wet bandanna, or soak your feet.
  3. Drink lots of water. One question. Do you have water stored? If there were a heatwave next week accompanied by rolling blackouts or a power outage would you have water available to drink? If you get bored with water, drink lemonade or juices, but never anything with caffeine or alcohol as these will raise your body temperature. Sodas will only increase your thirst. Popsicles are also a great way to stay hydrated. If you are thirsty, you have waited too long to drink.
  4. Eat cold foods. This is the time to eat sandwiches, salads and other foods that are not heated. Avoid large portions of protein foods as they will increase body temperature. Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
  5. Cook outdoors if you feel you must have a hot meal. You can do just about anything on your outdoor grill that you can do on your stove. Take out a skillet, a griddle, and a pot to prepare your meal outdoors. Be sure to keep your grill ten feet from the house to avoid a house fire. Crock pot cooking is also a great way to keep the heat outside. Just take the whole thing outside and (if you have electricity) plug it into an outlet on the patio. If you don’t have outside spaces, plug in your crock pot in a room you are not using such as the laundry room.
  6. Keep blinds and curtains closed.
  7. Move activities, including eating and sleeping, to the coolest room in the house. This will normally be on the lowest level of your home and in a room with an exposure that does not receive direct sunlight.
  8. This is one time when you shouldn’t be concerned with how much television the family watches. Play board games or read, but don’t be too active.
  9. Use your outdoor umbrellas outside the windows receiving direct sun. Outdoor canopies, tarps, and dining flies also work well.

  10. Wear loose, light colored clothing.
  11. Install ceiling fans and/or sit next to a fan. Remember fans do not cool the air, they only move it. You become cooler as the moisture on your skin evaporates. This is the reason you want to stay wet!
  12. Work outside early in the day, before 11:00 AM or late in the day, after 7:00PM.
  13. Skip the exercise routine. Even if you exercise indoors, be careful not to get overheated before going outside.
  14. Go Shopping! No kidding. Go to the grocery store or mall and window shop. Under some circumstances they may have the air conditioning temperature set high and it may not be cooler, but if it is, shop slowly. Taking in a movie or going bowling are also “cool” pastimes.
  15. The elderly, young children, pregnant women and those taking diuretics are most vulnerable to heat related emergencies. If a member of your family is taking any medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist to determine if they are more susceptible to the affects of the heat.
  16. Check on housebound and elderly – neighbors and friends – and get them to a cooler location. Be sure there is a plan for their care when the center closes. Many centers close for the night. Nighttime can be the most dangerous time of the day. We assume the temperature will be lower at night, but this is not always the case – especially in the city. All those roads and sidewalks retain heat during the day and as they release it at night the temperature remains high. Same thing for suburban congestion – several homes on an acre of land with homes just a few feet from each other is a bad idea.
  17. Visit a friend or relative out of town. The temperature in the city is usually several degrees higher then the temperature in a country setting. The hard surfaces , walls, sidewalks, streets, parking lots – all retain heat and increase the temperature. Get out where there are trees and grass.
  18. Watch for heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Be sure you have your copy of Totally Ready for the Road with you when traveling for a quick reference for heat related medical emergencies. Heat cramps are muscle pains and spasms due to heavy exertion and dehydration. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are often the first signal that the body is in trouble. Someone suffering from heat exhaustion will have cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin; sweat heavily; have a headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature may be normal, or may be rising. Someone suffering from heat stroke will have hot, red skin; lapse of consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Their body temperature can be very high, as high as 105 degrees F. If the person was sweating from heavy work or exercise, skin may be wet; otherwise, it will feel dry. If any of these symptoms are present call your doctor or hospital for treatment directions. If you have any doubt, call for help.
  19. Turn off lights and the computer in the rooms you are trying to cool down. Both will generate heat.
  20. When it cools down at night, if it cools down, open all the windows. Close them again mid morning as it starts to heat up.
  21. Never leave children or pets in a parked car, even with the windows open. The temperature in a car, with the windows open, can reach 120 F within a very few minutes.
  22. If you are stranded in your car, place mylar blankets on the roof and over the windshield and rear window, on the outside of the car. Weight them down with rocks or anything you have on hand. You can also secure them by closing them into the door. Keep the windows open. The mylar blankets will reflect the sun, greatly reducing the heat.
  23. Remember your pets. Pets can also suffer from heat stroke. Treat them as you would other family members. Bulldogs and other breeds with “pushed-in faces” are at highest risk for heat stroke and should not go outside when temperatures rise.  Lay down a wet towel on a tile floor. Spray them with water. Once they are dry spray them down again. Encourage them to drink often. Keep them indoors. Feed them smaller more frequent meals.
  24. If you need to go outside, wear a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen.


Find a cooling center by calling the police department or fire department

Never take the dangers of a heat wave lightly. With preparation, you can transform a heat wave from a full-fledged disaster, to merely a hot and miserable adventure for your family and friends. Copy this article and add it to your preparedness binders. If a power outage accompanies your heatwave you may not have the luxury of reviewing these guidelines. When a heat wave arrives in your town get out your binder and re-read this article to remind yourself of the things to do to keep your family safe.

Heat-related emergencies are very serious. Add a power outage and the results are deadly. Protect yourself now by accumulating items which will help through the emergency and learn how to use them. Teach your family members the dangers and warning signs now.

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