Summer, winter, and year round, severe storms and extreme temperatures can disrupt routines and endanger lives. Learn what to expect and how best to protect yourself in weather emergencies.
Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States. NOAA National Weather Service statistical data shows that heat causes more fatalities per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined. Based on the 10-year average from 1994 to 2003, excessive heat claimed 237 lives each year. By contrast, floods killed 84; tornadoes, 58; lightning, 63; and hurricanes, 18.
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 heat alert procedures are based mainly on Heat Index Values. The "Heat Index", sometimes referred to as the "apparent temperature" and given in degrees Fahrenheit, is a measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is added to the actual air temperature.
To find the heat index, 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 relative
humidity is 65% (found on the left of the table), the heat index-or how
hot it really feels-is 121°F. This is at the intersection of the 96°
column and the 65% row. 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.
IMPORTANT: Since heat index values were devised for shady, light wind conditions, EXPOSURE TO FULL SUNSHINE CAN INCREASE HEAT INDEX VALUES BY UP TO 15°F. Also, STRONG WINDS, PARTICULARLY WITH VERY HOT, DRY AIR, CAN BE EXTREMELY HAZARDOUS.
Note on the Heat Index Chart shaded zone above 105°F. This corresponds to a level that may cause increasingly severe heat disorders with continued exposure and/or physical activity.
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 (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.