Summer is here and along with the change in weather, a variety of alerts and warnings may be issued to protect the public from the elements. A little attention and preventive action can guarantee your comfort as the temperature rises.
The following information came from a variety of sources, including first responders, health and weather officials:
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Heat Wave: A Major Summer Killer
Heat is the number one weather-related killer. On average, more than 1,500 people in the U.S. die each year from excessive heat. This number is greater than the 30-year mean annual number of deaths due to tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined. In the 40-year period from 1936 through 1975, nearly 20,000 people were killed in the United States by the effects of heat and solar radiation.
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, Illinois area were attributed to this event. And 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 section or another of the United States. East of the Rockies, they tend to combine both high temperature and high humidity although some of the worst have been catastrophically dry. Additional detail on how heat impacts the human body is provided under "The Hazards of Excessive Heat" heading.
NOAA's Watch, Warning, and Advisory Products for Extreme Heat
Each National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Forecast Office (WFO) can issue the following heat-related products as conditions warrant:
Excessive Heat Outlook: when the potential exists for an excessive heat event in the next 3 to 7 days. An outlook is used to indicate that a heat event may develop. It is intended to provide information to those who need considerable lead time to prepare for the event, such as public utilities, emergency management and public health officials.
Excessive Heat Watch: when conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event in the next 12 to 48 hours. A watch is used when the risk of a heat wave has increased, but its occurrence and timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set their plans in motion can do so, such as established individual city excessive heat event mitigation plans.
Excessive Heat Warning/Advisory: 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 occurrence. 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.
How Forecasters Decide Whether to Issue Excessive Heat Products
National Weather Service Heat Index Based Guidance
The "Heat Index" (HI) is sometimes referred to as the "apparent temperature". The HI, given in degrees F, is a measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity (RH) is added to the actual air temperature.
To find the HI, go to their website here. http://www.weather.gov/om/heat/index.shtml  Look at the Heat Index Chart. As an example, if the air temperature is 96°F (found on the top of the table) and the RH is 65% (found on the left of the table), the HI-or how hot it really feels-is 121°F. This is at the intersection of the 96° column and the 65% row.
Important: Since HI values were devised for shady, light wind conditions, exposure to full sunshine can increase HI values by up to 15 percent. Also, strong winds, particularly with very hot, dry air, can be extremely dangerous.
Note on the Heat Index Chart shaded zone above 105°F. This corresponds to a level of HI that may cause increasingly severe heat disorders with continued exposure and/or physical activity.
NOAA's Heat Alert Procedures based mainly on Heat Index Values
The National Weather Service will initiate alert procedures when the Heat Index is expected to exceed 105°- 110°F (depending on local climate) for at least two consecutive days. The procedures are:
· Include Heat Index values in zone and city forecasts.
· Issue Special Weather Statements and/or Public Information Statements presenting a detailed discussion of: Extent of the hazard including Heat Index values, who is most at risk, and safety rules for reducing the risk.
· Assist state/local health officials in preparing Civil Emergency Messages in severe heat waves. Meteorological information from Special Weather Statements will be included as well as more detailed medical information, advice, and names and telephone numbers of health officials.
· Release all of the above information to the media and over NOAA All-Hazard Weather Radio
Heat Health Watch/Warning System
Recent research has shown that a heat index threshold does not fully account for a variety of factors which impact health including the impact of consecutive stressful days on human health, the time of year, or the location where excessive heat events occur. For example, studies indicate large urban areas are particularly sensitive to heat early in the summer season. Based on this research, NOAA/NWS has supported the implementation of new Heat Health Watch/Warning System (HHWS) that its forecasters use as guidance in producing their daily warning and forecast products. This system was developed in conjunction with researchers at the University of Delaware.
As of summer 2007, about 20 Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) now utilize the HHWS as additional guidance in their forecast decision-making process. The NWS goal is to expand the HHWS coverage to include approximately 70 vulnerable urban cities across the continental U.S. with mostly populations of 500,000 or more.
The HHWS, tailored for each urban locale, is the first and only meteorological tool based upon the occurrence of certain air masses that have historically been associated with elevated mortality levels. Air masses consider the entire "umbrella" of air over a region, rather than a single meteorological variable such as the heat index. HHWS consider numerous meteorological, seasonal, and social factors, and are based upon actual human health responses. Through the use of, it is possible to predict the likelihood of excess mortality given the synoptic conditions present at specific cities, the number of consecutive days an oppressive air mass is present, and the time of year the event occurs.
Currently, those urban areas with HHWS coverage include Philadelphia, PA; Seattle, WA; Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. TX; Phoenix and Yuma, AZ; Baltimore, MD; Washington, D.C.; Chicago, IL; St. Louis, MO Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Shreveport and Monroe, LA.; Memphis, TN; Jackson, Meridian and Tupelo, MS; Little Rock and Pine Bluff, AR; Portland, OR; Minneapolis, MN; San Francisco and San Jose, CA.
The NWS forecaster analyzes the HHWS guidance, as well as heat index values, time of year and expected length of the heat event, collaborate with neighboring WFOs as needed, and then decide which, if any, excessive heat product to issue. If an Outlook, Watch, Warning, or Advisory will be issued, the forecaster will notify the local health department and/or emergency management agency to insure that they are aware of the excessive heat forecast.
The Hazards of Excessive Heat
How Heat Affects the Body
Human bodies dissipate heat by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation, by losing water through the skin and sweat glands, and-as the last extremity is reached-by panting, when blood is heated above 98.6 degrees. The heart begins to pump more blood, blood vessels dilate to accommodate the increased flow, and the bundles of tiny capillaries threading through the upper layers of skin are put into operation. The body's blood is circulated closer to the skin's surface, and excess heat drains off into the cooler atmosphere. At the same time, water diffuses through the skin as perspiration. The skin handles about 90 percent of the body's heat dissipating function.
Sweating, by itself, does nothing to cool the body, unless the water is removed by evaporation, and high relative humidity retards evaporation. The evaporation process itself works this way: the heat energy required to evaporate the sweat is extracted from the body, thereby cooling it. Under conditions of high temperature (above 90 degrees) and high relative humidity, the body is doing everything it can to maintain 98.6 degrees inside. The heart is pumping a torrent of blood through dilated circulatory vessels; the sweat glands are pouring liquid-including essential dissolved chemicals, like sodium and chloride onto the surface of the skin.
Too Much Heat
Heat disorders generally have to do with a reduction or collapse of the body's ability to shed heat by circulatory changes and sweating, or a chemical (salt) imbalance caused by too much sweating. When heat gain exceeds the level the body can remove, or when the body cannot compensate for fluids and salt lost through perspiration, the temperature of the body's inner core begins to rise and heat-related illness may develop.
Ranging in severity, heat disorders share one common feature: the individual has overexposed or over exercised for his age and physical condition in the existing thermal environment.
Sunburn, with its ultraviolet radiation burns, can significantly retard the skin's ability to shed excess heat. Studies indicate that, other things being equal, the severity of heat disorders tend to increase with age-heat cramps in a 17-year-old may be heat exhaustion in someone 40, and heat stroke in a person over 60.
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.
Cities Pose Special Hazards
The stagnant atmospheric conditions of the heat wave trap pollutants in urban areas and add the stresses of severe pollution to the already dangerous stresses of hot weather, creating a health problem of undiscovered dimensions. A map of heat-related deaths in St. Louis during 1966, for example, shows a heavier concentration in the crowded alleys and towers of the inner city, where air quality would also be poor during a heat wave.
The high inner-city death rates also can be read as poor access to air-conditioned rooms. While air conditioning may be a luxury in normal times, it can be a lifesaver during heat wave conditions.
The cost of cool air moves steadily higher, adding what appears to be a cruel economic side to heat wave fatalities. Indications from the 1978 Texas heat wave suggest that some elderly people on fixed incomes, many of them in buildings that could not be ventilated without air conditioning, found the cost too high, turned off their units, and ultimately succumbed to the stresses of heat
Children, Adults, and Pets Enclosed in Parked Vehicles Are at Great Risk
Each year children die from hyperthermia as a result of being left enclosed in parked vehicles. This can occur even on a mild day. Studies have shown that the temperature inside a parked vehicle can rise rapidly to a dangerous level for children, adults, and pets. 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.
Excessive Heat Cautions and Safety Tips
Preventing Heat-Related Illness
Elderly persons, small children, chronic invalids, those on certain medications or drugs (especially tranquilizers and anticholinergics), and persons with weight and alcohol problems are particularly susceptible to heat reactions, especially during heat waves in areas where a moderate climate usually prevails.
Heat Wave Safety Tips
Slow down. Strenuous activities should be reduced, eliminated, or rescheduled to the coolest time of the day. Individuals at risk should stay in the coolest available place, not necessarily indoors.
Dress for summer. Lightweight light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your body maintain normal temperatures.
Put less fuel on your inner fires. Foods (like proteins) that increase metabolic heat production also increase water loss.
Drink plenty of water or other non-alcohol fluids. Your body needs water to keep cool. Drink plenty of fluids even if you don't feel thirsty. Persons who (1) have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease, (2) are on fluid restrictive diets or (3) have a problem with fluid retention should consult a physician before increasing their consumption of fluids.
Do not drink alcoholic beverages.
Do not take salt tablets unless specified by a physician.
Spend more time in air-conditioned places. Air conditioning in homes and other buildings markedly reduces danger from the heat. If you cannot afford an air conditioner, spending some time each day (during hot weather) in an air conditioned environment affords some protection.
Don't get too much sun. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult
Never leave persons, especially children, and pets in a closed, parked vehicle
Know These Heat Disorder Symptoms
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 muscles of legs and abdomen possible. Heavy sweating. First Aid: Firm pressure on cramping muscles, or gentle massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue use.
HEAT EXHAUSTION: Heavy sweating, weakness, skin cold, pale and clammy. Pulse thready. Normal temperature possible. Fainting and vomiting. First Aid: Get victim out of sun. Lay down and loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to air conditioned room. Sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue use. 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. 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.
Community Guidance: Preparing for and Responding to Excessive Heat Events
The "Excessive Heat Events Guidebook" was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2006, in collaboration with NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This guidebook provides best practices that have been employed to save lives during heat waves in different urban areas, and provides a menu of options that communities can use in developing their own mitigation plans.
Worker Safety: Outdoor workers can be especially vulnerable to excessive heat. See Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) resources and recommended practices (planning, prevention, and response) when working under hot conditions, such as drinking fluids, changing work/rest schedules to lengthen breaks, cooling down in shade, and looking out for co-workers, particularly those who work alone. Check weather forecasts ahead of time so that you can be better prepared.