It’s been really hot out. You might have noticed.
Heat records have been broken right and left this year, with the time between January and June noted as the hottest on record in Florida. Last July tied with June 1998 as the Sunshine State’s hottest month ever. The daily heat index — the measurement of Fahrenheit and humidity that gives you a “feels like” temperature — has regularly shot over 115, prompting near-daily excessive heat warnings. Miami Herald reporters recently took an infrared thermometer to test the surfaces of popular outdoor spots between Miami-Dade and Broward counties and found a playground floor registering 177.9 degrees. Sand on South Beach was 137.
Naples Daily News reporter Mark Bickel did that in July and checked a playground slide (157.7 degrees), a post office drop box (136.5) and a pickleball court (133.3). Even the handle of a shopping cart outside reached 111.2. And it’s not cooling off any time soon.
Heat waves kill more people in the U.S. than hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined. 3,066 heat-related deaths were reported in the U.S. during 2018-2020. Florida has seen an 88% increase in heat-related deaths over the last three years.
So keeping cool and staying safe is important. Here’s what you need to know.
Keep an eye on the forecasts
Be aware of what you’re walking out into. The National Weather Service issues excessive heat warnings and watches and heat advisories to alert you when temperatures and heat indices will be too high for safety. Weather sites and apps will give you a heads up or you can go to weather.gov and check your area. The CDC Heat & Health Tracker also provides local heat and health information.
If there’s an excessive heat warning in your area, maybe it’s a good time to stay indoors and leave the outside work or errands for later in the day, or go out to eat instead of firing up the oven.
Dress for the heat, and use sunscreen
There are a lot of common-sense ways to deal with the heat. Step 1: Stay out of it, as much as possible, especially at midday when the sun is hottest. Don’t overdo it, pace yourself and avoid getting overheated.
Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more. Muscle cramping may be an early sign of heat-related illness.
Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing and use sunscreen. Reapply at least every two hours, more often if you’re sweating or getting in and out of the pool or ocean. if you go to Disney World, stick to the cool spots.
If you’re an athlete, schedule workouts and practices early or late in the day. Monitor a teammate’s condition and have them do the same for you.
People more at risk to extreme heat include:
And don’t forget your furry friends, who don’t like the heat any more than you do and have fewer ways to cool off.
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Watch for symptoms of heat-related issues
When your body gets hot, it cools itself off by sweating. Your body’s temperature reduces as the perspiration evaporates. When you get too hot you can’t cool off quickly enough and your brain, the heart and other organs can be damaged. If the relative humidity is high (that’s the moisture in the atmosphere), your sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly (or at all) and you heat up even faster. That leads to dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and potentially fatal heat stroke.
The CDC says that 600–700 Americans die of heat-related illness every year, although other agencies report higher rates. One study showed that 3,066 heat-related deaths occurred during 2018-2020. Another found up to 20,000 deaths may have been linked to extreme heat from 2008 to 2017.
But this is largely preventable. Heat waves are more dangerous because people aren’t as aware of the dangers or what to watch for, experts say. Common symptoms include:
- Faintness or dizziness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pulsating headache
- Profuse sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Hot, dry, red skin OR cool, pale, clammy skin
- Rapid and weak pulse
- Temperature over 103
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However, for people with chronic diseases, extreme heat can make existing symptoms worse, which makes heat-related illnesses hard to spot. It’s especially difficult for older Americans who tend not to adjust to temperature changes as easily and may take medications with similar side effects.
Caregivers should pay extra attention to people living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related diseases as the symptoms can be similar and the person may be incapable of noticing, understanding or telling you about their condition.
If you start feeling these symptoms or you see someone who is, get out of the sun into the shade or a cooler inside location, take small sips of cool water and apply cool wet compresses to visible skin. Remove any extra layers of clothing. If the person is nonresponsive or collapses, call 911.
Your air conditioner and you
What temperature should you set your thermostat on? That’s really up to you, but here are some things to think about when you make your choice. And that magic 78 degrees setting everyone gives you? It can save you money but it’s not specifically recommended by ENERGY STAR.
Here’s what to do if your air conditioner breaks down in the middle of the summer (and pour one out for those noble a/c repair people who are awfully busy this time of year). While you’re waiting for the truck to show up, here are some ways to keep your house cool(er) without power.
Keeping your energy bills down
- Put up with a hotter house. According to FPL, every degree cooler costs you between 3-5% more on your bill.
- Keep your a/c happy. Change filters every month, keep vents and the outside unit clear of anything blocking them, get it maintained at least once, ideally twice a year.
- Turn off the lights. Turn off any lights you aren’t using, turn off ceiling fans when you leave the room, turn off electrical items that continue to draw a charge when you’re not using them (air fryers, laptops, gaming consoles, etc.), use cold water in the washing machine, turn your hot water heater down to 120.
- Watch for price hikes. A sudden jump in your bill could mean something in the house is busted and needs attention. Your door and window weatherstripping might need work, you could have poor insulation, or your a/c unit might be on its last legs.
- Look into alternative billing. Some energy companies may offer “budget billing” payment plans to average your summer bill out across the rest of the year and keep your bills a little more predictable, at least. Here are the ones for FPL and Duke Energy.
Contributors: Cheryl McCloud, USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida Audience team; Mark H. Bickel, Naples Daily News; Lianna Norman, Palm Beach Post; Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY