Summer 2020 is on track to be one of the hottest years in history in certain parts of the States. Here’s how you can beat the heat.
Summer might conjure images of long sunny days at the lake or beach, or water fights in the backyard with the sprinklers going full blast. It might also make you think of sunburns and popsicles, yet for some, just finding a way to get cool can be a serious health matter.
Whether you love or hate the heat, it’s already turned into another scorcher this summer, and we’re going to all have to figure out the best way to deal with the heat. Here’s what you need to know.
The Weather-Ocean Connection
While it may seem a bit counterintuitive, the world’s oceans and currents impact everything from temperatures and humidity to hurricanes and massive storms.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, water in the ocean acts as a giant heat sink for solar energy, especially around the equator where the sun’s rays hit the earth at nearly 90 degrees. Ocean water evaporates into the air, which increases the humidity and heat. The air can only hold so much moisture before a storm forms, and the water returns to the earth in the form of rain and storms.
Those storms are carried all over the world by a major air current called the trade winds. The trade winds are also called “easterlies,” and they carry air from east to west around the equator of the globe.
In addition to the trade winds, the oceans also distribute the sun’s heat all over the earth through currents. These currents can be massive and move tremendous amounts of water across the globe. Deep, cold water currents are continually moving along the bottom of the ocean. As the water warms, it rises and eventually comes to the surface where it evaporates and begins the entire cycle again. According to National Geographic, the cycle and movement of the deep cold ocean current are often referred to as the ocean conveyor belt. This conveyor belt cycles the oceans around the world once every 1,000 years.
Recently, The Weather Channel released a report stating that this summer will likely be one of the hottest on record across all lower 48 states. Especially in areas like the Midwest, South, and Western states. The report says that the world is on track for another La Niña event, which is when ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific and equator drop by 0.5 degrees Celcius.
La Niña is the counterpart to El Niño and is referred to as the “cooler” event. La Niña causes places like California to be drier while the southern part of the country gets hotter and more humid thanks to the path of the jet stream, which is impacted by the ocean conveyor belt, according to the National Weather Service. According to The Weather Channel report, we could see elevated temperatures across the United States well into September this year.
How Heat and Humidity Affect Us (And What to Do About it)
As much as most of us like to complain about the heat, it isn’t a joke. Between 1999 and 2010, more than 8,000 people died as a result of heat, according to the most recent data from the CDC. Each year more than 600 people die all over the country as a result of heat. According to data from the CDC’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, most of those deaths occur in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.
Heat and humidity affect the human body in different but interrelated ways. Heat makes us cranky, and even a bit more violent and aggressive. Several studies have shown that when the mercury rises, the number of violent crimes goes up as a result of both the psychological and physical impact of heat. This is partially a result of what heat does to us physically (makes us uncomfortable and dehydrated) and what it does to us mentally as a result.
Your body has an internal “thermostat” that helps you regulate your temperature. When the heat outside exceeds your body’s ability to keep that internal temp the same, a few things start to happen. We’re designed to remain at a comfortable internal temperature of 98.7 degrees. Heat makes your heart pump faster to move more blood to keep you cooler. You start to sweat, which is the body’s way of trying to cool you down through evaporation. You can also get rid of excess heat when you exhale. As you sweat and exhale, you lose water and can become dehydrated, which can lead to heat-related problems.
As much as most of us like to complain about the heat, it isn’t a joke. Between 1999 and 2010, more than 8,000 people died as a result of heat, according to the most recent data from the CDC.
When your body gets too hot, your breathing may become shallow, you may get dizzy, confused, or faint, get cramps, and vomit. These symptoms can indicate heat stress and heat stroke, and you must find a way to get cool quickly. If internal temperature remains above 104 degrees for more than 30 minutes, it can be fatal. If someone exhibits symptoms of heat stress or heat exhaustion, it’s an emergency, and you should call 911 and start working to cool them down. That can mean using cool, damp compresses, using cool water, or removing clothing. The CDC has a handy chart of symptoms to check for in heat-related illness, in case you or someone you love starts to feel badly.
When you add humidity into the mix, the heat can become even more dangerous. Humidity hinders the evaporation of sweat from your skin, making it harder to disperse the heat that builds up in your body. In dry climates like the desert, evaporation happens faster, and that can pose a new set of problems — your body simply never sweats so you can’t tell that you are overheating.
How to Manage The Heat
In normal circumstances, there would be plenty of options to stay cool during the sweltering days of summer. We could head to an afternoon matinee at the movies, or go to the mall, but with the pandemic still raging all over the country, those options are largely out. In addition to that, there are several new safety rules and protocols at local cooling centers to stop the spread of COVID-19. Of course, all this depends on where you live and how bad the pandemic is in your area, so check with your state officials and your local government to find out how to patronize local businesses or state and local services safely.
Drink Water (but not Cold Water)
It seems like obvious advice, but drinking water is crucial to managing your body temperature in the heat. Sure there are plenty of sports drinks and soft drinks on the market, but water is still the best option for hydration and heat management. That’s because soft drinks often have tons of sugar and other additives that actually can strip your body vital nutrients and even more fluids, according to the CDC.
The CDC also recommends drinking even when you’re not thirsty. That’s mainly because your body’s thirst response lags your actual hydration level — so by the time you are feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
One thing of note, you shouldn’t drink very cold water if you’re experiencing any heat-related issues. Cold drinks can cause stomach cramps and make it harder to keep drinking.
Get Your Electrolytes
When you sweat, and as you exhale, you disperse heat and water out into the air through evaporation. That water comes from inside your body, and it takes with it essential minerals like salt and other electrolytes, including potassium, magnesium, and chloride. When you lose those minerals to sweat, it’s vital to replace them whether that’s through healthy food choices, (bananas, salted nuts like almonds — just be careful of taking in too much salt, dried fruits, and plenty of water), or through electrolyte replacement drinks or tablets. Many health and outdoor adventure stores sell electrolyte replacement tablets that you dissolve in water and drink. They can be a great way to ensure that you keep your electrolytes up when you’re sweating a lot.
You can also use sports drinks as an alternative way to get your electrolytes, but they still contain a lot of sugar, which can strip your cells of water and lead to dehydration.
Create the Right Environment to Stay Cool
Not all of us can afford air conditioning, and a lot of times, you’ll see suggestions to use fans instead. It turns out that fans are only helpful up to around 99-degrees. Beyond that point, they don’t help and can hurt when it comes to managing the heat because they aid in dehydration. Scientific American points out that fans can be helpful when it’s humid, but according to the EPA guidance, they shouldn’t be used in extreme heat.
It’s also important to wear the right kind of clothes in high heat. Light-colored, lightweight, loose fabrics are best for managing heat because they allow for airflow. We lose a considerable amount of heat through our upper bodies, so if you can keep the fabrics flowing or go topless around your upper half, you’ll be more comfortable.
You can also take a cool shower, use cool compresses, and baths to stay cool in extreme heat. If you want to exercise outside, do it early since the day will only heat up once the sun rises. If and when you go outside, always wear sunscreen since sunburn can make it difficult to cool down and dehydrate you.
Since congregating in large, public, air-conditioned areas is more difficult with COVID-19, you might consider investing in a small air-conditioning unit you can run in one room of your home’s very hot. Keep your blinds closed to the intense summer sun, don’t run your oven, stove, or your dryer and keep your electronic usage to a minimum. Computers and televisions give off heat too, and they can just add to the discomfort of a hot summer day.
If you get a headache in the heat (a sign of dehydration), avoid taking NSAIDs like Aspirin or Ibuprofen. These don’t help lower body temperature in the heat (even though they help lower fever) and become more toxic to your body in elevated temperatures. Taking an NSAID in the heat can make heatstroke much worse.
If you know you are going to have to work or be out in the heat, you can start training your body to handle it. You can use heat acclimatization techniques like those used by athletes. Taking a light walk or doing some light gardening in the morning when the heat is just beginning to rise is a good way to start. Gradually spending more time in heated climates will make your body adapt by sweating more efficiently and managing the heat. It only takes about an hour a day of heat exposure to tell your body that it needs to start making changes to handle the heat better.
Protect the Most Vulnerable
Heat affects the very young, those struggling with illness, our pets, and the elderly. If you or your loved ones are overweight or obese, you are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. If you work outside for long periods or take certain heart disease and blood pressure medications, you may also be more vulnerable to heat illnesses.
Babies and kids can get into trouble in the heat and exhibit similar symptoms to adults but don’t necessarily have the communication skills to let an adult know. Never leave your kids in a hot car. According to Consumer Reports, almost 40 kids per year die from heatstroke after being left in a vehicle.
While it’s vital to apply the same protocols above for all the people we love, we have to pay attention to our pets, too. They need a cool, shaded place to be, and they must have constant access to clean, fresh water, according to the CDC. Hundreds of pets die in vehicles due to heat, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, and it happens year-round.
As we approach the dog days of summer, it’s crucial to do your best to keep you and your loved ones safe. Follow these steps and read the CDC’s guidance to find out more about how to stay cool in extreme heat.