Information adapted from

“There are basically two seasons here: bitter winter, unbearable humidity”-Guy from Bojack Horseman speaking about Illinois weather

Back in the winter we spoke about cold weather hazards, covering hypothermia and more.  That winter weather feels so far behind us now, and with astronomical summer coming up and metrological summer well past, it’s time to talk about heat!  Summer weather brings about its own host of hazards, but fortunately they are easy to prepare for.  Today’s topic is specifically heat.  How hot is too hot and what makes it dangerous?  Let’s found out in the first part of our posts on “Summer Bummers”.

What is Excessive Heat?

We know that every summer is going to come with some uncomfortably warm weather that makes us want to turn on the air conditioning.  However, from an Emergency Preparedness standpoint, only days that reach excessively high temperatures warrant an “excessive heat” advisory.  An excessive heat advisory may be issued when the maximum heat index temperature is expected to be 100° or higher for at least 2 days without cooling off below 75° at night.  An advisory can be escalated to a “watch” if the temperature is expected to be over 105° for two days, and a “warning” if these conditions are almost certain or are already in effect.  The exact numbers can vary between locations, as some areas are more resilient to heat than others (think of Southern states, like Arizona, Nevada or Florida, compared to Alaska or Maine).

A Heat Index can be used to estimate the likelihood of heat complications


Less known than it’s opposite (hypothermia), hyperthermia is a condition where the body’s internal temperature is too high.  This term applies to several different conditions that occur when the body becomes too hot: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.  Each of these differ in severity, symptoms, and best course of action.

  • Heat Cramps
    • Symptoms: Painful muscle cramps and spasms usually in legs and abdomen and Heavy sweating.
    • First Aid: Apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water unless the person complains of nausea, then stop giving water.  Seek medical attention if it persists over an hour
  • Heat Exhaustion
    • Symptoms: Heavy sweating, Weakness or tiredness, cool, pale, clammy skin; fast, weak pulse, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headache, fainting,
      First Aid: Move person to a cooler environment, preferably a well air conditioned room. Loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths or have person sit in a cool bath. Offer sips of water. If person vomits more than once, or if it persists more than an hour, seek medical attention.
  • Heat Stroke
    • Symptoms: Throbbing headache, confusion, nausea, dizziness, body temperature above 103°F, hot, red, dry or damp skin, rapid and strong pulse, fainting, loss of consciousness.
    • First Aid: Call 911 or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency and can be fatal! Move the victim to a cooler, preferably air-conditioned, environment. Reduce body temperature with cool cloths or bath. Use a fan if heat index temperatures are below the high 90s. A fan can make you hotter at higher temperatures. Do NOT give fluids.

Who is most vulnerable?

Anyone can be susceptible to hyperthermia and heat related complications.  Long exposures, such as a full day at the pool or a sporting event will increase the odds.  Strenuous activity will also increase the body’s temperature and make you more prone to hyperthermia.  Some populations are more vulnerable and should take extra precautions:

  • Young children- Similar to cold, their bodies are less able to adapt to heat than are adults.  Hot cars are the biggest heat-related danger to children, and an average of 38 children die of hyperthermia every year from being left in cars.
  • Older adults- Most heat-related fatalities are older adults, and the number of seniors dying from heat increase every year.  Seniors that live alone or are otherwise socially isolated are particularly vulnerable (as evident in the 1995 Chicago Heat Wave).
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • Pregnant women are also at higher risk- Extreme heat events have been associated with adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm birth, and infant mortality, as well as congenital cataracts.

The best means of preventing heat related risks is to reduce time outdoors.  Plan to stay inside on days with heat watches and warnings, and consider moving chores and activities that must be done outside to cooler parts of the day (morning and evening).  If you must be outside, take occasional indoor breaks to reduce your temperature.  Also, drink plenty of water, which we will cover in a future post, Summer Bummer Part II: Hydrate or Die-Drate!

Until next time, stay safe McDonough County