Extreme Heat: An Introductory Guide To Surviving Hot Weather

Extreme Heat: An Introductory Guide To Surviving Hot Weather

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines extreme heat as “summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for location at that time of year”.  The year 2014 was the hottest in modern history and more hot weather may well be on the way.   Extreme heat and high temperatures can lead to health issues and eventually death if not properly addressed.  Young children, older adults, those who are sick and/or overweight are even more likely to succumb to the effects of extreme heat and temperature.  There are things one can do now, however, to mitigate against the effects of extreme heat.  The following is an introductory guide to doing just that.

Extreme Heat: General Preparation

  • Having air conditioning installed at home or place of business is a good starting point.  The system must be in good repair and installed properly.
  • All air-conditioning ducts should be inspected for proper insulation.
  • Do not rely upon fans as a primary source of cooling.
  • On a temporary basis, window reflectors can be installed to reflect heat back outside.
  • Be sure to cover windows that receive sun with drapes, shades, or other coverings.
  • Outdoor awnings or louvers can also reduce the heat significantly.
  • Weather-stripping can be installed on doors and window sills to keep cool air in the building.
  • During a heat emergency, limit your exposure to the sun as much as possible.
  • Cooling showers or baths may be taken to reduce body heat.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water.  Hydration is key to survival.  For those with medical conditions that require a fluid-restricted diet, consult with your family physician first.  Note very cold beverages can lead to stomach cramping.
  • Beverages containing caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar should be avoided.
  • If possible, have a backup source of water available at all times.  A sudden stoppage of the normal supply of water could be catastrophic during an extreme heat event.
  • In addition to having backup sources of water, consider obtaining the equipment and skills to filter and purify your own water from natural sources.
  • Wear sun screen and appropriate clothing for the weather.
  • Be sure to eat a well-balanced, and preferably light, meals during the event.
  • If possible, avoid hard work during the hottest part of the day.
  • At no time leave small children or animals alone in a closed vehicle.  Temperatures in such enclosed spaces can climb from 78° to 120° F in under eight minutes.
  • Be sure that any animals you have (e.g., pets, livestock, etc.) have proper shade and access to water.
  • If one own a mobile device (e.g., a smartphone, tablet, etc.), consider install the free American Red Cross Emergency App.  The app contains information on preparing for and coping during a heat wave.  Alternatively, with the proper tools, the free app may also be run on a Mac OS based machine or on Windows based device.
  • Be sure to check on people you know, such as friends, family, neighbors, etc., that do not have air conditioning, are elderly, have small children, or have medical conditions that may be adversely effected by extreme heat.  Be prepared to render first aid should they require said.
  • Stay informed by tuning into the radio or Internet sources for updates on the heat wave.

Heat-Induced Illnesses

Extreme Heat

There are a number of heat-induced illnesses that the reader should be aware of.  Some are similar, but each have unique symptoms and treatments.  The American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), local emergency management organizations, citizens-organized groups (e.g., The American Civil Defense Association, etc.), and others all can provide training for addressing heat-induced illnesses.  However, in brief, the conditions that should be noted are:

Heat Exhaustion:  Heat exhaustion can result in heavy sweating, but the skin may be cool to the touch.  Additionally, the victim may have a weak pulse and experience nausea, dizziness, headaches,  and vomiting.

Heat exhaustion can be treated by having the victim loosen or remove clothing articles, lie down in a cool place, and apply cool, wet cloths.  An air conditioned location is best for treatment.  The victim can be given small, even sips of cool water, but no more than half a glass every fifteen minutes.  Should vomiting occur, stop administering water, and seek medical treatment immediately.

Heat Cramps:  Heat cramps are painful spasms that typically occur in the abdominal muscles and legs.

A victim of heat cramps can be treated by moving to a cool location and gently massaging and stretching the affected muscles.  As with heat exhaustion, small sips of water can be administered, but must be stopped if the victim feels nauseated.  When in doubt, seek medical treatment.

Sunburn: Sunburn usually manifests with skin redness, irritation, and pain.  Blisters and swelling may also be present.  Secondary symptoms include headaches, fever, and disorientation.

Mild sunburns can be treated by taking a cool shower.  If blistering occurs, apply sterile, dry dressings and seek medical attention.

Heat Stroke:  Heat strokes is a very serious medical condition in which the victim’s temperature control system stops working.  It can feature high body temperatures (105°+ F), a rapid and weak pulse, and shallow breathing.  If a victim is exhibiting these signs, do not administer water and do not delay in calling 9-1-1 or other emergency medical services.  A delay may prove fatal.  Until medical help arrives, the victim can be moved to a cool location and remove unnecessary clothing.  The victim’s should be monitored for breathing problems.

The preceding has been a short introductory guide to the topic of extreme heat.  Additional material may be accessed in the sources listed below.  If the reader wishes to discuss extreme heat preparation, or other disaster related topics, the free Disaster.com forum is available here.  Sign up is quick and easy.


  1. Extreme Heat Prevention Guide – Part 1. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp
  2. NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/january/nasa-determines-2014-warmest-year-in-modern-record
  3. Harrison, K. (2008). Wildfires. In Just in Case: How to Be Self-sufficient When the Unexpected Happens (pp. 118-119). North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
  4. Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 85-92). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
  5. Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness. (2011, June 20). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/warning.html
  6. Heat Wave Safety Tips | Heat Illness Prevention | American Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/heat-wave
  7. TACDA ACADEMY – CIVIL DEFENSE BASICS 1 9. WATER PURIFICATION. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.tacda.org/docs/TACDA_Academy_CDBasics_9Water.pdf
  8. Heat Wave Safety Tips | Heat Illness Prevention | American Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/heat-wave
  9. Rosdahl, C., & Kowalski, M. (2008). Textbook of Basic Nursing (9th ed., pp. 465-466). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  10. Schwartz, R. (2008). Tactical Emergency Medicine (pp. 84-87). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  11. Heat and alcohol–a dangerous combination. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/ade70528.page
  12. Extreme Heat. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.ready.gov/heat
  13. Sunburn | Doctor | Patient.co.uk. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/sunburn
  14. (2013, June 10). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/
  15. Extreme Heat Tip Sheet for Individuals. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/emergency/natural/heat/tips.pdf

Zachariah Amela

Zachariah is a writer with Disaster.com and is an Information Technology professional. He has worked with and contributed to disaster relief organizations and has a strong interest in emergency management, wireless communications, Civil Defense, and family preparedness. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and is married with children. When not working or writing, he enjoys time with the family, hiking, trap/skeet shooting, and reading.

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extreme heat

  1. Humidity is a big threat. I hate seeing kids out training in sports when it's in th upper 90s, but here the air is so dry your skin gets itchy if you forget lotion even one day. I can't imagine how people survive in high humidity. I hope the coaches are aware of the risks and take precautions, like maybe hose the kids off periodically to keep them cool.
    We have all been told that too much salt is bad for us, and especially those of us who are seniors, we are often told to cut down on our salt intake.

    Seniors are also the ones most prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, although it can happen to anyone when you get dehydrated.

    The first thing that they will do to treat you if this happens is to give you an IV with a saline solution. We need salt, and even more so in hot weather when we lose salt through perspiration.

    The next question that is important, is what kind of salt and how much. Plain household salt has been chemically refined and treated, so it is basically a non-food anymore, and even with the added iodine, it is still unhealthy for us. Choose a natural salt, either sea salt, or a mineral salt, which has the natural minerals still in it.

    My choice was the Himalayan mineral salt. It comes from the Jurassic time period oceans, and the beautiful pink color is from minerals that leached into the salt over thousands of years.

    I got mine from Amazon, and it is beautiful (almost jewel-like) pink crystals. I put some in the salt grinder for use on food, and a small jar of the crystals to add to soups and other things where they will dissolve in the water when they are cooking.

    Salt holds water in our bodies and keeps us from being dehydrated. We need a balance of water and salt, not too much of either, but enough to keep us hydrated during the heat.

    So, get yourself some healthy salt, and use it knowing that it is good for your body, and not bad unless overdone. Actually, my Himalayan salt has a saltier flavor than plain salt, and it only takes a little to add a delightful salty taste to your food.

    I am glad that summer is almost over and the extreme heat is dissipating even if somehow slowly. The temperature at 30 deg is tolerable but when the sun is up and it hovers at 35 deg before going up some more, you risk dehydration or worse, heatstroke, unless you go to a shaded area. Our living room has an air conditioning for the benefit of our dogs. Extreme heat can also cause heat stroke to dogs. Our thermometer is a guide when to turn on the airconditioning - if the temperature hits 30 degrees.
    I live in a tropical country which is generally hot throughout the year, and it's even worse during the summer season. This summer, temperatures ranged from 37 up to 42 degrees centigrade so the whole summer has been so hot to bear. I myself am hypertensive and I find it hard to breath sometimes when the temperature is so high. The statement in the article saying that electric or cooling fans are not enough is so true. Even the air that blows from these fans are so hot. My intake of water has fairly increased and I would always feel so thirsty, I feel weak whenever I feel I don't have enough water in my body.

    I would just like to share a personal story of a friend of mine who unknowingly left her 4-year-old daughter inside her car. They were a lot in the car that time and she didn't realize that her daughter was left behind when they all left the car. It was around 1 pm and the temperature has always been so hot during that time. It took a few minutes before she realized that her daughter was still in the car. When she went back to the car to check on her daughter, she was all red and was struggling to breath. She was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital and luckily she became alright. A lesson of never leaving children in the car during hot weather.

    Regarding heat stroke, a colleague of mine died due to that. She was busy driving back and forth from one area to another on a hot and humid day and she had her car windows open during her driving. When she arrived at her last destination, she suddenly collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately, she was declared dead on arrival upon arriving in the emergency room. The doctors said she was severely dehydrated and suffered heat stroke. This emphasizes the importance of never forgetting water intake no matter how busy you are especially when the weather is very hot.
    Living in the Sacramento area, this is an extremely important read for me. I know I'm going to send this to some friends who may not be so great at taking care of their bodies or reading the signs in such intense heat. It's really frustrating to me when I see people playing outside in 100+ degrees all day without drinking an excess amount of water- the body doesn't want to operate in those conditions without being constantly hydrated! There are so many areas of the world that are essentially unfit for humans unless they have constant access to drinking water, which some people take for granted. Construction workers, for example, wouldn't be able to do work during the summer months in a lot of places without access to clean water.
    It's the end of summer here in the Philippines and it is still so hot. Extreme heat is still on the country yet rainy season is starting. This is one thing that changed - the heat. Global warming is already on this planet and it is caused by the people themselves. Climate changes due to human activities. This article helps a lot, What I am doing that is stated on the article is taking shower to reduce the body heat. Thanks a lot admin.
    One really easy way to help keep yourself cool when working out in the yard , is to get a small pool to cool off in. Even a small kiddie pool will help and it will not use as much water as taking a cool shower does. I used this a lot in the summertime to help keep cool in the heat.

    I would do some of my yard work, and then go and lie in the pool for a few minutes, and get my hair good and wet as well.

    I kept the little pool in a shady area of the yard; so it stayed as cool as possible in the heat, and then just added a little more cold water from the hose as needed.

    Even better is one of those Intex pools that you can actually swim in; but those are not always a do-able thing unless you have your own house and yard to set one up in.

    Just the little wading pool does not take up as much room , and it really helps to keep you cool.

    Another good thing for the summer is called a "cool-tie". It is like a bandana, but it has a kind of gel inside it that keeps your neck cool. You soak the bandana in water for an hour and then it has absorbed the water and is very cooling on your neck.

    Just keeping the back of your neck cool in hot weather really helps a whole lot. I like having a couple of them, that way you can wear one, and have the other one chilling in a pan of cold water.
    The article was informative and helpful. Nonetheless, I would like to add a few more points. Flushing out the temperature from the body is most important. The body does it naturally, but when the heat is too much for its capacity it loses the ability to send out excess heat and the same gets trapped inside the body, leading to a sun stroke.

    Sponging with cold water to a heat-affected person is of great importance. It removes the excess temperature and resumes normal bodily functions. If an air-conditioner is not available, the patient should be placed where plenty of air is circulated. This measure reduces ambient relative humidity. Regular administration of ORS saves lives.
    The article was informative and helpful. Nonetheless, I would like to add a few more points. Flushing out the temperature from the body is most important. The body does it naturally, but when the heat is too much for its capacity it loses the ability to send out excess heat and the same gets trapped inside the body, leading to a sun stroke.

    Sponging with cold water to a heat-affected person is of great importance. It removes the excess temperature and resumes normal bodily functions. If an air-conditioner is not available, the patient should be placed where plenty of air is circulated. This measure reduces ambient relative humidity. Regular administration of ORS saves lives.

    I just got home from a brief vacation in the province of Batanes, the northern tip of the Philippines. I never expected that it was too hot there during this summer time. The temperature was probably soaring to the 35s or higher and my thirst seemed not to be quenched anymore. Making matters worse, the hotel has poor airconditioning and power outages were a common occurrence. It was really a bad experience with the hot climate.

    To counter the extreme heat, I slept with only my underwear at night since the electric fan was having a hard time. In the daytime, I have the frozen bottle of water that I touch my face with to console my skin somehow. But the worst is when we go to the mountains as part of the packaged tour. The sun was shining brightly and there was no way to avoid it so I had to apply sunblock lotion. Tsk, tsk, terrible indeed.
    Extreme heat can cause a lot of harmful things. It can trigger your blood pressure that can lead to death therefore it really is important to keep our body cool and hydrated. Always have a bottle of water with you and don't expose yourself to too much sun especially during noontime. It is also essential to change your clothes into something that is very light and comfortable.
    That's a really good guide. I think that I'm one of those people that absolutely hate the heat due to it burning my skin and making me feel irritated and unhappy with humid, I've seen it also cause fire and all, it's not a good situation at all. I absolutely miss winter and snow and the coldness.
    I always drink a lot of water these days to keep my self hydrated. I sweat a lot even if I am not working out. Summer is suppose to be over on my location but iis humid here even when it's raining. Your salt advice reminds me a lot why people loves swimming in the ocean. There is something calming about ocean water.

    I wish I have a pool so the water can help me cool down from this crazy temperature. I My body is currently covered with prickly heat because of the temperature.
    People who are on certain medications need to take extra precautions in extreme temperatures. If you are not certain whether yours is amongst them then do check it out today and make sure you know what you need to do.
    The number one victim of extreme heat are the asthmatics. They have no shield against sweat unless they are in an air conditioned room. The next victims are those with heart ailments. They easily succumb to fatigue and later on can have a heart attack. Third are those with weak physique that can suffer heat stroke. There was this former governor who was running for re-election in the province of Batangas. In one of his campaign trip to a town, he suffered heat stroke and died. Elections here are held in May, it's summer time.
    I honestly think many people aren't aware of how dangerous heat related illnesses can be. I didn't know much about them years ago, and ended up with heat stroke. Even after that, I had heat exhaustion. I have some medical conditions and have been on medications that contribute to dehydration and risks when out in the sun, so as 's idea of a kiddie pool to cool off, because sometimes drinking water isn't enough, and that could be a quick way to decrease your body temperature. Also, it's important if you have heat sensitivity, and plan to work in the yard or elsewhere outside, to do it before the sun comes up, and after it sets. I tend to stay indoors for the most part in the Summers here, because they are so hot, but if I do go for a walk, or work outside, I try to do it in the early morning. It tends to be cooler then than in the evenings.

    ​As mentioned, I don't understand why coaches and others insist on working kids or others (ex is a state trooper, and the academy had them doing push ups on hot blacktop at noon in the Summer) insist on punitive type activities. Pushing people to engage in dangerous tasks doesn't build character, and it could kill.

    I do see some PSA (Public Service Announcements) on television in the Summers here, but not nearly enough, and only when it is dangerously hot, and cities are handing out fans to elders. I think they should run in the Spring as well, and those who plan activities and training programs should be taught about the dangers of heat and other weather-related situations.
    I also have heat exhaustion, and even when I was a teenager (way back when !), I would just pass out if I was out in the summer sun.

    Laying on the beach and getting a suntan was impossible, it made me ill in about 5 minutes.

    Now, I do the same thing as mentioned; I go out in the early morning and do any watering or other outside chores.

    I also do this with my little dogs. It is way too hot for them to be out in the heat of day; so they get to spend time outside in the early morning. During the day, they just make fast trips outside as needed, plus I got a little kiddie pool for them to swim in.

    It is also important to increase your salt intake in the summer, because when we perspire, we lose salts and electrolytes.

    Gatorade is mostly sugar water, so even though it has added electrolytes, it will heat your body up with the sugar in there.
    Tricking your body into feeling cool also helps. Here are some of the fast DIY tricks that I've read and tried:

  2. Cool your pulse points. Apply a cold compress or ice cubes on your neck, wrist, behind your knees, groin, ankles. I find dipping my feet in cold water really effective. You can also get a bottle of water and pop it in the freezer for an instant cold compress. Rub the cold bottle against the said pulse points.

  3. Place ice cubes in front of the fan for an instant cool air.

  4. Munch on cucumber and other fruits with high water content like watermelon, pineapples, oranges.

  5. Yes, as mentioned.) People think that because animals often roam free and are able to live outdoors that they aren't as affected by the heat as we are, but that isn't true, especially when you consider they have fur. Another thing to consider if you're going to walk your dogs during the heat of the day is that pavement can be extremely hot, and can burn their paws/pads, so booties might be something to consider, to protect those areas.
    I live in Mexico and even if is not that hot as in other countries in the summer thing get really wild over here... And the article helps a lot because I was used to not drink a lot of water and if I would drink something it would be a drink with a lot of sugar in it, but this summer I'm going to try to follow the most of the tips of this article, let's see how it works!
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