Heat can kill. That’s why Wisconsin Emergency Management and the National Weather Service are reminding people of the dangers associated with extreme heat and to promote community safety and health.
In 2012, Wisconsin had 24 confirmed heat-related deaths. Most occurred during five days of excessive heat warnings July 2 through 6. The heat index rose to 105 degrees Fahrenheit for 48 hours with night time lows of 75 degrees. It was the second-hottest and third-longest heat wave in Wisconsin. None of the victims had air conditioning and did not seek shelter at one of the many cooling centers that opened around the state.
In 2011, excessive heat claimed five lives and injured more than 100 people in Wisconsin during the July 17-21 heat wave. Once again, none of those victims had air conditioning. The combination of the warm temperatures and high humidity caused the heat index to rise between 100 and 117 degrees.
In 1995, two major killer heat waves affected most of Wisconsin, resulting in 154 heat-related deaths and more than 300 heat-related illnesses.
Summer heat waves have been the biggest weather-related killers in Wisconsin for the past 50 years, far exceeding tornadoes, severe storms and floods combined. Heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the United States. People at higher risk of a heat-related illness include:
• Older adults
• Infants and young children
• People with chronic heart or lung problems
• People with disabilities
• Overweight persons
• Those who work outdoors or in hot settings
• Users of some medications, especially those taken for mental disorders, movement disorder, allergies, depression, and heart or circulatory problems
• People who are socially isolated and don’t know when or how to cool off or when to call for help
Tips to keep safe in hot weather
1. Never leave children, disabled persons, or pets in a parked car, even briefly. Temperatures in a car can become life-threatening within minutes. On an 80-degree day with sunshine, the temperature inside a car, even with the windows cracked slightly, can rise 20 to 30 degrees above the outside temperature in 10 to 20 minutes. There have been cases where the inside temperature rose 40 degrees. Additional information is available at: nws.noaa.gov/os/heat/index.shtml
2. Keep the living space cool. If an air conditioner is available, use it. Cover windows to keep the sun from shining in. If there isn’t an air conditioner in the home, consider going to a community cooling center. If staying at home, open windows to let air circulate. At extreme high temperatures, a fan loses its ability to effectively reduce heat-related illness. When it’s hotter than 95 degrees, use fans to blow hot air out of the window rather than to blow hot air on the body.
3. Slow down and limit physical activity. Plan outings or exertion for the early morning or after dark when temperatures are cooler.
4. Drink plenty of water and eat lightly. Don’t wait for thirst, but instead drink plenty of water throughout the day. Avoid alcohol or caffeine and stay away from hot, heavy meals.
5. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. Add a hat or umbrella to keep the head cool and don’t forget to use sunscreen.
6. Don’t stop taking medication unless a doctor says to do so. Take extra care to stay cool and ask a doctor or pharmacist for any special heat advice.
7. Taking a cool shower or bath will cool the body down. A shower or bath will actually work faster than an air conditioner. Applying cold, wet rags to the neck, head and limbs also cools down the body quickly.
Signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and what to do
• Heat cramps: cramps or muscle spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs. Solution: Stop activity. Cool down, drink clear juice or sports drinks.
• Heat exhaustion: heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, fainting. Solution: Cool down, seek medical attention.
• Heat stroke: extremely high body temperature, red, hot, dry skin, rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, unconsciousness. Solution: Call 911 and cool the victim with a shower or hose until help arrives.
(Courtesy Wisconsin Department of Health Services)