In extreme temperatures, power companies sometimes struggle to meet demand, resulting in outages and blackouts. About 55 million people in the northeastern U.S. and Canada lost power on August 14, 2003 after a sagging high voltage line hit a tree. Some places didn’t get power back for two days.
High temperatures cause about 175 deaths in the United States every year. A 1980 heat wave killed more than 1,250 people. Of all natural disasters, only winter’s cold is more deadly.
“In the U.S., extreme heat may have greater impact on human health, especially among the elderly, than any other type of severe weather,” said NOAA’s “Heat Wave: A Major Summer Killer.”
Here are seven tips that will help you beat the heat and stay cool should you find yourself without power.
Stay in the coolest part of the house or in the shade
When it got really hot outside and her power went off, Barbara Benson used to stay in her basement.
“You really had to,” she said.
If you don’t have a basement, the north side of a larger building will be cooler than the south side, according to FEMA’s Ready.gov/heat. Uncarpeted rooms will be cooler. Keep an eye on the temperature inside. It can become warmer than outside.
Use the windows
FEMA suggests covering windows during the day. Cardboard covered by aluminum foil or a reflective blanket works as an inexpensive sunlight reflector. We even have reflective blankets that would also do the job nicely.
If there’s a breeze during the day, open windows across from each other and put a wet towel in front of the windward side window, suggests Angela Paskett, who writes an emergency preparedness blog. Also open them at night so the draft can cool the house.
If you’re in the sun, wear a hat. Sunburns can severely diminish the body’s ability to get rid of heat. Your clothes should cover as much skin as possible and be loose and light colored. Natural fabrics like cotton breathe better than synthetic ones like polyester.
Drink lots, Eat Cool, and Cook Outside
If you don’t have to cook, don’t. Well-balanced, light meals with lots of fruit and vegetables are easier to digest, which produces less body heat and decreases water loss, according to NOAA. If you cook, do so outside.
Drink water even if you’re not thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, and lots of sugar. Those can cause greater thirst.
To keep her grandchildren cool, Benson built a “Kid Wash,” a PVC pipe contraption with holes punched in overhead pipes. Water flows into the pipes from a hose and drips out like a shower.
“(My grandkids) love it,” she said.
Paskett’s blog recommends four ways to use water to stay cool:
Get in a tub or pool.
Put a wet towel anywhere you check a pulse.
Wear wet clothes.
Use a water-filled spray bottle.
Check on vulnerable family and friends
Older people, young children, and people with chronic illness or obesity are at higher risk for heat stroke and death, according to FEMA.
“Heat cramps in a 17-year-old may be heat exhaustion in someone (age) 40 and heat stroke in a person over 60,” according to NOAA.
Ready.gov suggests getting to know neighbors to be aware of those who live alone and might be at risk.
Recognize heat-related illness
Humans get rid of heat by sweating and sweat evaporation, pumping blood closer to the skin and panting. When the body can’t get rid of enough heat, or has a chemical imbalance from sweating too much, it goes into heat exhaustion.
WebMD lists signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion: confusion, dizziness and fainting, dark-colored urine, headache, cramps, nausea, pale skin, profuse sweating, and rapid heartbeat.
To treat, get the patient out of the heat, give them plenty of fluid and try cooling with water and fans. If symptoms haven’t improved in 15 minutes, emergency medical help may be necessary because heat exhaustion can become heat stroke.
Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature control breaks down. Core body temperature rises above 105 degrees. Other symptoms include fainting, nausea, seizures and impaired mental state. Heat stroke can kill, so if you feel you’re at risk, call 911 immediately and try cooling strategies like wetting the patient or applying ice packs.
No matter what happens this summer, make sure you find ways to stay cool and well hydrated.
How do you beat the heat? Let us know in the comments below!