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Queens Chronicle

Summer Heat—What You Should Know

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Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2003 12:00 am

During the summer months, New Yorkers are especially vulnerable to hot weather hazards. Heat waves are particularly dangerous for the elderly, children and the infirmed. The New York City Department For The Aging and the New York City Office of Emergency Management offers the following information:

On summer days, the city can be as much as 10 degrees warmer than its surrounding areas. The city’s infrastructure—largely made up of asphalt, concrete and metal—traps the heat, leading to higher temperatures. This is known as the “urban heat island” effect.

Heat can kill by pushing the human body beyond its limits. Under normal conditions, the body’s internal thermostat produces perspiration that evaporates and cools the body. However, in extreme heat and humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work harder to maintain a normal temperature.

A heat wave’s duration plays an important role in how people are affected. Studies show that a significant rise in heat-related illnesses occurs when excessive heat lasts for more than two days.

Spending at least two hours per day in air-conditioned spaces significantly cuts down on the number of heat-related illnesses. However, unusually high temperatures that persist over several days can cause heat-related illnesses that result in death, especially among the elderly, so be sure to check on your neighbors and offer them assistance during a heat emergency.

Quick Heat-Beating Tips

• Stay out of the sun. When in the sun, wear sunscreen (at least SPF 15).

• Avoid strenuous activity.

• Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes that cover as much skin as possible to prevent sunburn.

• Give your body a chance to adjust to extreme temperature changes.

• Drink plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids. Water and diluted juices are your best choices. Stay away from carbonated drinks. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can actually harm one’s ability to cool oneself. Those on fluid-restricted diets or taking diuretics should consult their physician.

• Use shades or awnings.

• Keep rooms well-ventilated with air conditioners and fans. Keep your windows open if you don’t have a fan or air conditioning.

• Cool down with repeated cool baths or showers, even if there is no electrical power.

• Consider going to public pools and air-conditioned stores and malls.

• Find a cooling center.

What is Extreme Heat?

What constitutes an extreme heat watch, warning or advisory varies by location. Generally, extreme heat is defined by temperatures that hover 10 degrees or more above the average high temperature for the region, last for prolonged periods of time, and are accompanied by high humidity.

In New York City, a heat wave exists when metereological forecasts predict heat indices of 100 degrees or higher for more than two consecutive days and/or the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory or warning.

People living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than people living in rural regions. An increased health problem, especially for those with respiratory difficulties, can occur as a result of stagnant atmospheric conditions that trap pollutants in urban areas, thus adding unhealthy air to excessively hot temperatures.


Terms and Information

Heat index (apparent temperature): A number in degrees Fahrenheit that indicates how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the actual air temperature. Exposure to direct sunlight can increase the heat index by 15 degrees.

Heat wave: Prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity.

Ozone and air quality: Ozone, a major component of smog, is created in the presence of sunlight by reactions of chemicals found in gasoline vapors and emissions from cars and industrial smoke stacks.

High levels of ozone in the atmosphere can have adverse effects on one’s health by causing a variety of respiratory problems, including coughing, throat irritation, shortness of breath, decreased lung function and aggravation of asthma.

All people, especially children, those who exercise or work outdoors, and those with respiratory diseases, should limit strenuous outdoor activity during the afternoon and early evening hours when ozone levels are high.

Energy-Saving Tips:

During periods of intense electrical usage, such as on hot, humid days, it is important to conserve as much energy as possible to avoid brownouts and other electrical disruptions.

Air conditioner use (residential):

Set the control no lower than 78 degrees — a 75-degree setting uses 18 percent more electricity and a 72-degree setting uses 39 percent more electricity. This setting allows for sufficient cooling while still conserving electric power.

Only use an air conditioner when you are home. If you want to cool your room down before you arrive home, set a timer to have it switch on no more than one-half hour before you arrive.

If your neighborhood is experiencing serious electrical distribution problems, Con Edison or KeySpan may ask you to:

Turn off all non-essential appliances.

Wait until the problems are resolved before using your washer/dryer.

Turn off unneeded air conditioners.

If necessary try to limit the use of air conditioning to one room.

While diminishing your power usage may seem like an inconvenience, your cooperation will help to ensure that utilities can continue to provide uninterrupted electrical service.

Finally, remember, seniors and others may be especially sensitive to extreme heat and should contact friends, neighbors or relatives—in person or by phone—at least twice a day during a heat wave. Seniors should also keep their homes well ventilated and seek immediate help if they feel signs of heat stress.

Many older New Yorkers live alone and could suffer unnecessarily in the heat because they’re isolated from friends and family so pay special attention to the very young and anyone with a pre-existing medical condition during heat waves.

For more information regarding services and programs for older New Yorkers, call 3-1-1 and ask for senior services in your area

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