Summer in Massachusetts generally brings comfortable weather, but extreme heat conditions do occur usually a few times per summer. There is no universal definition for extreme heat. The term is relative to the usual weather in the region based on climatic averages. Extreme heat, for this climatic region, is usually defined as a period of 3 or more consecutive days above 90 °F, but more generally a prolonged period of excessively hot weather, which may be accompanied by high humidity.
While some people enjoy hot weather, for most, extreme heat is just an inconvenience. However, extreme heat can be dangerous and even life-threatening, particularly for those at higher risk, if proper precautions are not taken. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Most heat disorders occur because the victim has been overexposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition. Although anyone can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others: older adults, young children and those who are sick or overweight.
Tips to follow during hot, humid weather:
How to Prepare Before Extreme Heat
- Install air conditioners snugly, insulating if necessary.
- Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings or louvers. Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80%.
- Listen to local weather forecasts and stay aware of upcoming temperature changes.
- Get trained in first aid to learn how to treat heat-related emergencies.
- Get prepared in case of Power Outages During Warm Weather . Power outages during extreme heat can be challenging due to the need to keep cool.
During Extreme Heat
- Slow down, avoid strenuous activity. Do not try to do too much on a hot day.
- Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect heat and sunlight and help maintain normal body temperature.
- Drink plenty of water; even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcoholic beverages and liquids high in sugar or caffeine. If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink during hot weather.
- Eat well-balanced, light, regular meals.
- Stay indoors as much as possible. If you must be outdoors, try to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Try to rest often in shady areas so that your body’s thermostat will have a chance to recover.
- If you do not have air conditioning, stay on your lowest floor, out of the sun. Electric fans do not cool the air, but they do help evaporate sweat, which cools your body. Go to a place where you can get relief from the heat, such as air conditioned schools, libraries, theaters and other community facilities that may offer refuge during the warmest times of the day.
- Check with your community for information about possible local ‘cooling centers’ to assist those seeking relief from the oppressive heat.
- Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. If possible, use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.
- Avoid too much sun exposure. If you are outside, use sunscreen lotion with a high SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating and wear a wide-brimmed hat.
- Never leave children or pets alone in a closed vehicle. Even with the windows cracked open, interior temperatures can rise almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit within 10 minutes.
- Do not leave pets outside for extended periods. Make sure that pets have plenty of drinking water.
- Check on family, friends and neighbors especially the elderly, those who live alone, or those who may not have air conditioning.
- Particularly during extreme heat, if you experience a Power Outages During Warm Weather , you may need to go to a cooling center or emergency shelter to stay cool.
In normal weather, the body’s internal thermostat produces perspiration that evaporates and cools the body. However, in extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain normal temperature. Following these recommendations can prevent heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Heat Cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. They usually involve the abdominal muscles or legs and are caused by loss of water due to heavy sweating. Treatment includes getting the person to a cooler place to rest in a comfortable position. Give the person a half glass of cool water every fifteen minutes.
- Heat Exhaustion typically occurs when people over-exert themselves in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to vital organs to decrease, resulting in a form of mild shock. The skin will be cool and moist, appearing either pale or flushed. The victim may have headache and/or experience nausea. There may also be dizziness. It is important to treat the victim promptly, so the condition does not intensify into Heat Stroke. Get the person to a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets. If the person is conscious, supply a half glass of cool water every fifteen minutes, making sure the person drinks slowly. Let the person rest in a comfortable position, and watch carefully for changes in his or her condition.
- Heat Stroke is the most serious heat emergency. It is life threatening. The victim’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, shuts down. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. The victim will have hot, red skin, with changes of consciousness. Their pulse will be rapid, but weak and they will experience rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can rise to 105F. If the person was sweating from heavy work or exercise, skin may be wet; otherwise it will feel dry. A person suffering from Heat Stroke needs immediate assistance. Call 911 and move the person to a cooler place. Immerse in a cool bath or wrap in wet sheets. Watch for breathing problems. Keep the person lying down and continue to cool the body any way you can. If the victim refuses water, is vomiting, or there are changes in the level of consciousness, do not give anything to eat or drink.