You can just walk outside to know that it’s Hot, I’m sure no one needs to tell you that stifling Heat is a serious factor in the lives of Florida residents and visitors each and every Summer.
But what you may not know is that the thermometer doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. Because of our climate, it is actually MUCH HOTTER than any thermometer says.
This increase in felt temperature is called the “Heat Index” in meteorological terms, but it is the number that you want to be aware of when you are outside during these Summer months.
And now I get another chance to be a bit of a nerd. Ready?
Things to Know #1: The Heat Index
The Heat Index is the embodiment of the old (and somewhat laughable phrase), “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” It’s the same laugh that people in Arizona give you, usually with a piercing begrudging look, when you say to them, “but it’s a DRY heat.” You see, Heat Index is a set ratio between the temperature of the air and the relative humidity – the hotter the air and the more humid it is, the higher the Heat Index.
How does this affect humans? Well, a high Heat Index completely blows out our body’s cooling system. When our body wants to cool us down, it sweats, and the process of evaporation makes our skin cool. This is an effective way to eliminate heat from the body.
As the heat and humidity of the air increase, however, your sweat doesn’t evaporate as fast, or at all. You are left with no efficient way to regulate your temperature! And this is where problems begin to arise.
As you can see from this NOAA chart above, a temperature of 88 degrees F with 70% humidity feels like a temperature of 100 degrees F – with all of the heat implications that come with the 100 degree temperature. Yikes!
Things to Know #2: Signs of Heat Exhaustion/Stroke
I have published an article on our website about the Signs of heat exhaustion and stroke previously, so I will link it right here. It’s important to know the basics if you are working outside on a hot day – even a hot morning or evening.
All people’s heat tolerances are different – for instance, mine is not that great. My initial symptoms (for the many times I’ve overexerted myself in my hot garden or landscape) for example are slight dizziness, cloudy thinking, and severe stabbing pain in the back of my head which turns into a migraine. My point in telling you that is because the basic signs of Heat Exhaustion and Stroke are slightly different for everyone.
As I mentioned in my previously published article, your pets can also have Heat-related illness. Make sure that they are able to cope with the heat and have the proper resources they need to stay cool if they are outside pets. If there is no way to keep them cool outside for whatever reason, make sure they can shelter somewhere inside your home.
Things to Know #3: How to Avoid Heat Sickness
Some of this is common sense, but some might be new to you.
- Do outside work early in the morning, right after daybreak and finish up before 10 am. This time of year, it’s light outside starting at 6:30am or so, giving you a nice 3 hour chunk of time.
- If you can’t do the work in the mornings, wait until after 5 pm. In the Summer it’s light until around 8:30-9pm, which gives you several hours again to do what needs done.
- If the above two weren’t perfectly clear, limit your time outside during the heat of the day. Heat sickness can settle on someone rather quickly and catch us by surprise.
- Anytime you are outside, drink a LOT of cool water while you work. Avoid sugary drinks, even the popular flavored electrolyte drinks.
- Cooling towels or a fan in your work area are a great idea if you’re able to work in one place.
- Have healthy food to snack on before or during your work. Your body needs energy to sweat and work, and not having energy can make you succumb to heat sickness sooner.
- Hydrating foods to eat include (but are not limited to): watermelon and other melon, grapes, pineapple, cucumbers, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, lemon water.
- Take breaks often – go stand somewhere cooler or hose yourself off with the garden hose (or if you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor shower). Sit and rest. Stretch. Breathe deeply.
Things to Know #4: Avoid Alcohol
I didn’t include this one in the section above because it is actually quite important.
Alcohol is a substance that pulls water out of your body and eliminates it, mostly in your urine. As such, it robs you of water that your organs and tissues need to do their jobs.
Drinking alcohol dehydrates you. Yes, I know it seems contradictory – how can a liquid drink remove water from your body, right? But it does. So stop it. Or at least down a big glass of actual water between alcoholic drinks.
It’s one thing to have a cold beer at a Summer BBQ. It’s quite another to have your only drinks be a 6-pack of beer while you’re trimming hedges and doing other manual labor in the yard. Stick to the cool water when you’re working in the heat. Save the beer for hanging out with friends at that party.
It could save your life.
Things to Know #5: Be Aware
Do you remember the old GI Joe cartoons, where they said, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!” Or am I just showing my age?
Regardless, it is good to be aware of yourself and how you’re feeling when you are spending time in our Florida heat. Further, you should very much be aware of how your friends and family are handling the heat as well. Look for the signs of heat sickness from the chart in Things to Know #2 above so that you can take appropriate action should it be needed.
You don’t have to obsess about heat safety – goodness knows there is LOTS to do outside in our beautiful State and you don’t want to miss out. Just make sure that you’ve got what you need to stay cool. Be prepared, right?
Hope you have a happy Summer! See you next time.