Prepare for Extreme Heat

Extreme Heat

Heat is the number one weather-related killer. Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. 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. Older adults, young children and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat.

Conditions that can induce heat-related illnesses include stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. Consequently, people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas. Asphalt and concrete also store heat longer and gradually release heat at night, which can produce higher nighttime temperatures known as the "urban heat island effect."

A heat wave is an extended period of extreme heat, and is often accompanied by high humidity. These conditions can be dangerous and even life-threatening for people who don't take the proper precautions.

Extreme Heat Preparedness Checklist

  • Build a disaster supply kit and make a family emergency plan
  • If installing window air conditioners, install them snugly and insulate if necessary
  • Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation
  • Install temporary window reflectors (for use between windows and drapes), such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside
  • Weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air in
  • 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%
  • Keep storm windows up all year
  • Listen to local weather forecasts and stay aware of upcoming temperature changes
  • Know those in your neighborhood who are elderly, young or in poor health — they are more likely to become victims of excessive heat and may need help
  • Be aware that people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than are people living in rural areas
  • Get trained in first aid to learn how to treat heat-related emergencies

Stay Safe During the Heat

The Red Cross recommends taking these steps to stay safe during the heat:

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio for critical updates from the National Weather Service
  • Never leave children or pets alone in enclosed vehicles
  • Eat small meals and eat more often
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes
  • Limit intake of alcoholic beverages
  • Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty, and avoid drinks with caffeine
  • Stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine if air conditioning is not available
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing
  • Slow down, stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day
  • Use a buddy system when working in excessive heat
  • Take frequent breaks if working outdoors
  • Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning, who spend much of their time alone or who are more likely to be affected by the heat
  • Check on animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat, and ensure they have water and a shady place to rest

First Aid For Heat-Related Illness

Conditions Symptoms First Aid
Sunburn Skin redness and pain, possible swelling, blisters, fever, headaches - Take a shower using soap to remove oils that may block pores, preventing the body from cooling naturally. 
- Apply dry, sterile dressings to any blisters, and get medical attention.
Heat Cramps Painful spasms, usually in leg and abdominal muscles; heavy sweating - Get the victim to a cooler location. 
- Lightly stretch and gently massage affected muscles to relieve spasms. 
- Give sips of up to a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. (Do not give liquids with caffeine or alcohol.) 
- Discontinue liquids, if victim is nauseated.
Heat Exhaustion Heavy sweating but skin may be cool, pale, or flushed. Weak pulse. Normal body temperature is possible, but temperature will likely rise. Fainting or dizziness, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, and headaches are possible. - Get victim to lie down in a cool place. 
- Loosen or remove clothing. 
- Apply cool, wet clothes. 
- Fan or move victim to air-conditioned place. 
- Give sips of water if victim is conscious. 
- Be sure water is consumed slowly. 
- Give half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. 
- Discontinue water if victim is nauseated. 
- Seek immediate medical attention if vomiting occurs.
Heat Stroke (a severe medical emergency) High body temperature (105+); hot, red, dry skin; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid shallow breathing. Victim will probably not sweat unless victim was sweating from recent strenuous activity. Possible unconsciousness. - Call 9-1-1 or emergency medical services, or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal. 
- Move victim to a cooler environment. 
- Removing clothing 
- Try a cool bath, sponging, or wet sheet to reduce body temperature.
- Watch for breathing problems. 
- Use extreme caution. 
- Use fans and air conditioners.

Prepare For the Extreme

By the time severe weather hits, it's already too late. Disaster preparedness is about having an established safety plan. Whether it's preparedness for floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, or fires, the key to survival in disasters is planning. Use our preparedness section to stay informed, make a plan, and most importantly—remain safe in an emergency.