By Royal Delegge, Guest Blogger
DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.
Heat is responsible for more deaths in the United States annually than any other weather phenomenon. Given this fact, and the prediction of more heat events (on average) in the future, people need to be aware of the dangers associated with extreme heat and be prepared to take steps to protect themselves and to promote community safety and health during heat events.
That’s why the National Weather Service (NWS) has developed a tool called the HeatRisk forecast to help individuals address heat risks and prepare for heat waves. The forecast provides a quick view of the heat-risk potential over the upcoming seven days. The heat risk is portrayed in a numeric and color scale similar to the Air Quality Index. The forecast provides a daily value that indicates the approximate level of heat risk for any location along with a list of those groups most at risk. The HeatRisk initiative is being tested experimentally in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona over the next year.
Individuals can take specific actions that will help to mitigate the effects of heat and lower the risk of heat stress or even heat stroke:
- Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty. In a very dry climate such as Utah’s, individuals may not always recognize that they are becoming dehydrated.
- Take care to never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles, even for a few minutes.
- Stay indoors, in cooler conditions, as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.
- Check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone to assure that they are keeping safe.
- Go to a cooling center or shelter if you lack access to a cool environment or lose power during periods of extreme heat.
If you or your pets spend time outdoors during high heat, take the following precautions:
- Check on your pets frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat.
- Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colors because they absorb more of the sun’s energy.
- Protect your face and head by wearing sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat.
- Postpone outdoor games and activities until cooler periods of the day.
- Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day if you work outside. Use a buddy system to monitor coworkers when working in extreme heat and take frequent breaks.
Certain groups are more susceptible to heat effects and need closer attention than the rest of the population:
- Older adults
- Infants and young children
- People with chronic heart or lung problems
- People with disabilities
- Overweight persons
- Those who work outdoors or in hot settings
- Users of some medications, especially those taken for mental disorders, movement disorders, allergies, depression, and heart or circulatory problems
- People who are socially isolated and may not know when or how to cool off – or when to call for help
Keep your summer safe and enjoyable by following these precautions and checking the HeatRisk forecast for further information during high-heat periods.
Prepare for upcoming heat events and protect heat-sensitive individuals by visiting the HeatRisk webpage for continuously available heat-risk guidance for your area. Check out the NWS- Salt Lake office’s website for official heat warnings, watches, or advisories. If you live in Salt Lake County and need to find a place to cool off, check out the county surveyor’s online tool get a list of cooling centers near you.
I have served as Environmental Health Director for the Salt Lake County Health Department since August 1999. Previously, I served as Director of Environmental Health for the Winnebago County Health Department in Rockford, Illinois and before that held various positions at the DuPage County Health Department in the Chicago metropolitan area. I have also worked for more than six years as an Adjunct Professor of Public Health teaching courses in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences’ Master of Public Health program at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. I currently serve on the Boards of the Utah Climate Action Network, Wasatch Clean Air Network and am the current Chair of the Board of Trustees and CEO for the Utah Clean Cities Coalition and also Chair of the Utah Food Safety Committee for public health.