Today figures to be the hottest day of the year so far. That poses some dangers, as heat stress can lay people low and even take lives.
“We have more people die of heat in the greater Kansas City area … than we do from severe weather,” said Mike Curry, Jackson County’s emergency management director.
The National Weather Service on Friday posted an alert, in effect through 7 this evening, regarding what the agency calls dangerous heat. It says today’s heat and humidity should be more intense than Friday’s. The high is expected to be around 95.
The heat index could reach 105 to 107 today. The Weather Service advises extreme caution with an index of 91 to 103, and it says anything beyond that is dangerous.
“Primarily, stay indoors, stay in the shade, drink plenty of liquids,” Curry said.
Relief is coming: Thunderstorms starting perhaps late this afternoon are expected to cool things off, with highs in the 80s from Sunday through Tuesday.
But it’s only mid-June, and Kansas City always gets its share of stressfully hot, humid days. Curry said two things stand out as critically important on those days. First, drink more water.
Second, check on friends and relatives. Those without air-conditioning and with windows tightly closed, relying only on a fan or two, are susceptible to health risks, he said. The Weather Service says a fan blowing air of 90 degrees or warmer on you just dries you out more quickly, complicating health issues.
Overall, take it easy and be aware of the conditions.
“Mother Nature is much, much stronger and nastier than we ever expect,” Curry said, “and we need to show her respect.”
The Weather Service points to three progressively worse heat-related health problems:
• Heat cramps are often accompanied by heavy perspiration. Apply firm pressure to cramped muscles, massage any muscles that are in spasm, and sip water unless you become nauseated.
• Heat exhaustion has a variety of symptoms: weakness; fainting; dizziness; heavy perspiration; cool, pale or clammy skin; muscle cramps; nausea or vomiting; and a fast but weak pulse. Move that person to a cooler place. Have him lie down, and loosen some clothing. Offer sips of water, and apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible. Use a fan, or, better yet, get to an air-conditioned space. If the person vomits more than once, get medical attention right away.
• The worst is heat stroke. It’s an emergency and can be fatal. The person can slip into an altered mental state and can have a throbbing headache, nausea, dizziness, shallow breathing and confusion. The skin can be hot, red, dry or moist, and the pulse can be strong and rapid. The body temperature can rise above 103, and the person can faint.
Call 911 or get the person to a hospital. Don’t give fluids. Get to a cooler environment, preferably one that’s air-conditioned. Use cool cloths or a bath to reduce the body temperature. Use a fan if the heat index is below the high 90s, but remember that a fan can make you hotter at high temperatures.
Watch and adapt
Whether it’s time of blizzards, a tornadoes or excessive heat, authorities advise keeping a close eye on weather reports. Any number of apps, such as those from Red Cross, will ding your smartphone when an alert, watch or warning has been posting.
Then, schedule accordingly. For example, during hot weather, do the most strenuous things during the coolest part of the day. If the lawn can go another day or two, let it go.
• Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
• Eat lighter, and drink plenty of water – even if you’re not thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
• Situational awareness matters. Don’t leave anyone – including pets and especially small children – in a locked vehicle, even for a minute.
• Spend at least some time in air-conditioned spaces. The mall or the library can be good options. Some cities open cooling centers when it’s excessively hot.
• Minimize your direct exposure to the sun. Sunburn can be painful, and it reduces the body’s ability to dissipate heat.
• The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration points out that most heat-related workplace deaths among those new to the job and who are not yet acclimated to the heat. OSHA suggests drinking water every 15 minutes, resting in the shade, wearing a hat and light-colored clothing, and keep an eye on co-workers.
• Outdoor pets need extra attention, too. They especially need access shade and to plenty of fresh water.
The Mid-America Regional Council posts a daily SkyCast of the next day’s projected air quality. It’s a measure of ozone, which is created at ground level when fumes such as car exhaust or gas fumes mix with sunlight. That’s usually the worst on hot, calm days.
Ground-level ozone can contribute to breathing problems.
MARC posts four levels of air quality: green, yellow (which means some concerns and a suggestion that those especially sensitive to breathing issues limit their outdoor activity), an orange alert and a red alert. The area has not had a red alert for many years, but orange alerts generally happen several times each summer.
Today’s forecast is yellow. To help limit the ozone, you can mow in the evening, fill up with gas after dark and avoid painting in the hottest part of the day. Driving less helps, too.