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Lessons From the 1980 Heat Wave

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General Sherman famously said that if he owned Texas and hell, he would rent out Texas and live in hell. I imagine he would say that about much of the country right now, as triple digit heat blankets the nation. The last time it was this hot was in 1980, when it got up to 113 in Dallas/Fort Worth and 117 in Wichita Falls.

Cooling off in the heat

I have worn out my “I survived the summer of 1980” t-shirt with the map of Texas and the crazy temperatures on it, but I can offer people some lessons in surviving such temperatures. There are two concerns with such heat. The first, obviously, is the extreme heat during the day. The second is the high temperature during the night.

If the night time temperature does not fall below 85 degrees, the body does not get a chance to rest from the temperature stress. That is why there is a heat advisory any time the night time temperatures stay above 85 during the coolest part of the night. There really is not anything you can do to fix this. Just be aware that your body will be stressed and over time this can erode your alertness and make you more vulnerable to illness and injury. It also makes tempers short. Shootings and other assaults go up when it is hot, so take that into consideration.

As for surviving the day time temperatures, that takes some care and common sense. If you have air conditioning, use it. Utility companies usually have money to help pay for high bills caused by using the air conditioning in these heat waves. Every year, there are deaths in Texas from the heat, usually people who had air conditioning but did not use it because they were afraid of the bill. Do not be a statistic — use the air.

If you have no air conditioner, most places have set up cooling stations. These are places you can go that are air conditioned. People can go and get cool, giving their bodies a rest from the relentless heat. There are usually also some social services available to help people, so it is worth checking these places out.

If you must do things outside, try to do them in the early morning or late evening. Stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. if you can. If you are working outside, wear a light weight cotton long sleeved shirt, long pants, enclosed shoes, and a hat with a brim. The long sleeves and long pants help prevent sunburn. They also trap your sweat, then let it evaporate, which helps cool you. The hat protects your head from the sun. We lose a lot of heat through our head in the winter, but can absorb a lot in the summer, so covering your head just makes sense. The brim of the hat protects your face and neck from the sun. Finally, drink lots of water. You have to go to the restroom once an hour or so if you are drinking enough water to stay hydrated.

Know the signs of heat related illness — sweating stops, confusion, muscle cramps, and other problems. If they occur, go inside right then. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are life threatening illnesses. Contact a doctor if they occur as some effects are delayed and may be staved off if medical treatment is started immediately.

It is hot and miserable. Such heat is survivable, however. Use your air conditioner or a cooling station, stay out of the hottest part of the day, and stay hydrated.

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