Is Staying Cool the Hot New Thing?

As summer heats up a small but growing number of cities are getting serious about heat mitigation

Scientific studies have documented a dramatic rise in both heat-related and cold-related deaths and there’s general agreement that cities need to adopt comprehensive strategies to maintain public health. One of the studies found the number of deaths caused by high temperatures increased by 74 percent globally between 1980 and 2016. Deaths related to extreme cold increased 31 percent since 1990, another report, the first of its kind, found.

Heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and yet more than 600 people in the US alone are killed by extreme heat every year. Last year’s extreme heat wave in the Pacific Northwest resulted in an estimated 1,400-plus deaths. In neighboring British Columbia, 619 deaths reported June 25-July 1, 2021 were deemed heat related.

North Mountain Park near Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But most cities are only at the planning stages or conducting small-scale pilots—if they’re addressing the issue at all. There’s broad acknowledgment that rising temperatures are making urban centers less livable but many cities lack the budget or political support to meaningfully tackle the problem.

A survey by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Global Cool Cities Alliance (GCCA) reviewed the urban heat mitigation activities of 26 cities in the U.S. and Canada—representing all of the major climate zones, geographies, and city sizes across North America. They found that heat waves along with other natural disasters and extreme weather have motivated nearly two-thirds of the cities surveyed to initiate urban heat island mitigation strategies.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The report included case studies on how several cities have responded to urban heat demonstrating the variety of strategies employed. In response to a study that found that Houston’s roofs and pavements can reach 160 degrees F, the city now requires most flat roofs in the city to be reflective. After an extreme heat wave in 2008, Cincinnati lost much of its urban canopy and instituted an aggressive forestry plan. Washington D.C. has instituted a wide suite of programs such as Green Alleys which helps residents manage excess stormwater by replacing pavement with grass and trees and requiring reflective roofs on all new buildings.

More on severe weather: Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

Three major U.S. metro areas—Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Miami/Dade County—have established “Chief Heat Officers.”

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cities have been gearing up for this summer’s heat trying in particular to use cooling methods other than air conditioning. They’re installing cooling and misting centers and hydration stations and planting trees for extra shade.

They’re experimenting with high-tech solutions like sealants and reflective coatings for sidewalks, streets, and rooftops.

A growing number of startups are crowding into the market for products to counter “urban heat islands” with experimental (and proven) technologies aimed at absorbing or reflecting surface heat on roads, sidewalks, buildings, and other structures.

Coachella Valley Preserve near Palm Desert, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The big picture: Cities have been warming at twice the global average because of the “urban heat island” effect whereby buildings and pavement trap heat that might have otherwise been diffused by foliage.

Low-income people tend to suffer the most since they’re more likely to lack A/C, work outdoors, and live near industrial facilities.

Peralta Trailhead southeast of Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix—one of the hottest U.S. cities—has been proactive in tackling the problem. The temperature climbs above the 100-degree mark daily from the end of May through the middle of September. These blistering hot days are followed up by warm nights with the low temperature sometimes failing to drop below 90.

More on severe weather: Heat Alert: The Hidden Symptoms of Extreme Heat

Its “Cool Pavement Program” which involved painting a gray coating on streets reduced roadway temperatures by 10.5 to 12 degrees, reports Scientific American. Cool pavement is a water-based asphalt treatment that is applied on top of the existing asphalt pavement. It’s made with asphalt, water, an emulsifying agent (soap), mineral fillers, polymers, and recycled materials. It contains no harmful chemicals and is compatible with traditional asphalt.

The city aims to build 100 “cool corridors” by 2030 “in shade-starved zones with high pedestrian traffic,” the Arizona Republic reports.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park east of Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cool corridors are approximately one-mile-long walkways, pathways, or trails, adjacent and parallel to city streets that are designed to serve residents who walk, bike, and use transit. Collector or local streets and various pathways also could serve as cool corridors that provide important linkages with cool corridor arterials

Without more trees and other urban cooling features, the Phoenix area stands to lose hundreds more lives and billions of dollars in lost economic production each year by mid-century if the region doesn’t adopt widespread tree planting and cool roof installation, a Nature Conservancy study concluded last year.

Lost Dutchman State Park east of Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Heat is a really significant issue,” said Anna Bettis who directs TNC’s Healthy Cities Program in Arizona. “It’s the leading weather-related cause of death and the highest rates are in Arizona.”

But, Bettis said, “We do know that bringing nature into the city can help.” That means lots of desert-adapted trees.

More on severe weather: Dust Storms and Haboobs: Safety Tips for RVers

In 2020, according to Maricopa County, 323 people died of heat-related causes. The county has confirmed 252 heat deaths this year and is investigating another 86.

Desert Hot Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among smaller cities, Chelsea, Massachusetts, a low-income neighbor of Boston has a noteworthy pilot involving a single city block. The Cool Block project is loading the area with pretty much every heat-fighting tool in use around the country,” according to WBUR. There are 47 new elm, crabapple, cherry, and hawthorn trees. Sidewalks are being ripped up to add planters, porous pavers, or white concrete. Dark asphalt will be replaced with gray.

As cities race to amp up their heat mitigation efforts, some are replacing bare-bones cooling centers with full-service “climate resilience hubs”—offering everything from comfy air conditioning and phone charging to social services and emergency training.

Corkscrew Sanctuary, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While “resilience hubs” are meant for everyone and all kinds of climate disasters, they’re particularly aimed at low-income residents who tend to suffer disproportionately as temperatures rise.

Miami-Dade County is at the forefront with its mobile “resilience pod” made from a 40-foot shipping container. It debuted two years ago and offers people a chilled, solar-powered place to gather with Wi-Fi, phone charging, and other solutions including fruit trees for people to plant.

Southern Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tempe, Arizona, has budgeted $2.3 million for EnVision Tempe, a one-stop resource center that’ll have a big walk-in freezer and free ice—plus staffers who can help visitors find a job, GED classes, housing assistance, parenting programs, etc.

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith

Heat Alert: The Hidden Symptoms of Extreme Heat

Heat stroke is rare but there are other symptoms people often are not aware of

The consequences of extreme heat can be severe: last year, more than 600 people died during the heat dome in British Columbia and, in 2018, up to 70 deaths in Quebec were linked to a heat wave there. 

In Europe, more than 1,100 people have died from the heat in Spain and Portugal in recent weeks. The UK recorded its hottest-ever temperature last week (July 19, 2022) with a reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius in eastern England. What’s that in Fahrenheit? Remember what your sixth-grade science teacher explained: Multiply by 1.8 then add 32. That comes out to 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not that many folks are asking. Only the US, Belize, Palau, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands use Fahrenheit as their official temperature scale.

More than 100 million Americans are under a heat-related alert and at risk of heat-related illnesses, at the time of writing. Temperatures across much of the country are in the 90s to 100 degrees or higher. 

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat Advisories and Excessive Heat Warnings are in effect from Texas through the southern Plains and lower Mississippi and Ohio valleys where temperatures are expected to reach triple-digits in many locations. The Excessive Heat Warnings include major cities in Texas such as Dallas, Lufkin, San Angelo, Houston, and San Antonio. Outside of Texas, the warning includes Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Monroe, Louisiana. Heat Advisories are in effect elsewhere from New Orleans north to Birmingham and Huntsville in Alabama, Nashville, Tennessee, and Paducah, Kentucky.

You can die from this kind of heat if you’re not careful, especially if you work or recreate outdoors.

A man who was hiking on an unmarked trail in southwestern South Dakota that was featured in a social media challenge died when he and another hiker ran out of water. The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said 22-year-old Maxwell Right of St. Louis was hiking in Badlands National Park Wednesday (July 20, 2022) when he collapsed and died of suspected dehydration and exposure.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued an Excessive Heat Warning for portions of Arizona as temperatures in the Phoenix area could reach 116°F. The counties included in the warning are La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pinal, Pima, Yavapai, and Yuma.

More on severe weather: Arrival of Summer: On Dehydration, Hurricane Season & RVs

What temperature threshold triggers a heat warning varies depending on your location but the symptoms of heat-related illnesses remain the same. The thresholds that trigger Excessive Heat Watches, Excessive Heat Warnings, and Heat Advisories are not clear-cut, however.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since every region of the United States and Canada experiences a different climate, people become accustomed to the climate of the region in which they live. This means what is hot to a longtime resident of Maine or northern British Columbia might not be hot to someone who has spent many years in Florida or Texas.

In general, locations farther north don’t have to be as hot for heat alerts to be issued by the NWS because extreme heat is less frequent there. Areas farther south are more accustomed to hot, humid weather, so a higher threshold must be met before watches, warnings or advisories are posted. If this wasn’t the case, parts of the South would be under a Heat Advisory nearly every day in the summer.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not (just) the heat, it’s the humidity

The point at which a combination of heat and humidity becomes especially dangerous or even deadly is explained by scientists as “wet-bulb temperature”— the lowest temperature at which an object can cool down due to evaporating moisture.

Imagine a thermometer wrapped in a wet cloth: the water will keep evaporating from the cloth up until a certain level of humidity when the air contains too much moisture for evaporation to continue. Because of the evaporative effect, the temperature of the thermometer will be lower than the air around it—that is, until evaporation stops.

More on severe weather: Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat-related illnesses arise when an individual is exposed to environmental heat and their own body is not able to accommodate or acclimatize quickly. These symptoms are potentially life-threatening and should be taken seriously when they happen. But it’s not just about heat stroke.

There’s a spectrum of heat-related illness symptoms.

Heat-related illnesses can range from mild, requiring cooling and rehydration, to severe—requiring emergency medical treatment. 

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yellow Zone: Mild heat-related illness

Heat edema occurs when blood vessels dilate and blood accumulates in the hands and feet due to gravity, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with diabetes, cirrhosis, and heart conditions are at a higher risk. The treatment is to elevate the swollen area to drain it.

Watch for: Swollen ankles, feet, or hands.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat rashes occur when sweat glands get blocked or inflamed. The CDC recommends keeping the rash area dry and applying powder to increase comfort.  Heat rashes commonly occur in sweaty areas like your groin, your neck, or your armpits.

Watch for: Rashes on the face, chest, arms, and groin.

Heat cramps happen when the body loses salt and water and is treated by replenishing carbohydrates and electrolytes with a snack, water, or sports drink.

Watch for: Cramps in abdomen, arms, and calves.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Orange Zone: Moderate to severe heat-related illness

Heat syncope when someone feels light-headed after standing up is treated with rest and relief from the heat, sitting or lying down in a cool place, and slowly drinking water, clear juice, or a sports drink. 

Watch for: Fainting (short duration), light-headiness from standing, sitting, or lying position.

Heat exhaustion happens when you experience an excessive loss of water and salt usually through sweating. It is treated by cooling down with cold packs, washing the head, face, and neck with cold water, and frequently sipping cool water. 

Watch for: Weakness, dizziness, headache, fatigue, muscle cramps, vomiting. 

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Zone: Severe heat-related illness 

Heat strokes occur when the body’s cooling mechanism fails so you stop sweating and internal temperature heats up. Emergency medical care is required at this point. It helps to cool down with cold water, an ice bath, and soaking clothes with cool water. 

Watch for: Confusion, hallucinations, less sweat, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, throbbing headache, loss of consciousness, and altered mental state.

More on severe weather: 5 Tips for Avoiding Extreme Weather While RVing

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Staying Hydrated – Staying Healthy

When the temperatures rise, getting enough to drink is important regardless of the activity. Keeping the body hydrated helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. And, it helps the muscles work efficiently.

If you’re well hydrated, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard,” said John Batson, M.D, a sports medicine physician with Lowcountry Spine & Sport in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dehydration can be a serious condition that can lead to the above heat-related illnesses—ranging from swollen feet or a headache to life-threatening illnesses such as heat stroke. But staying hydrated is a daily necessity no matter what the thermometer says.

How much water should you drink each day? It’s a simple question with no easy answer.

Studies have produced varying recommendations over the years. But your individual water needs depend on many factors including your health, exercise intensity and duration, and climatic conditions.

No single formula fits everyone. But knowing more about your body’s need for fluids will help you estimate how much water to drink each day.

Extreme heat can have severe consequences © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For most people, water is the best thing to drink to stay hydrated. Sources of water also include foods such fruits and vegetables which contain a high percentage of water. Sports drinks with electrolytes may be useful for people doing high intensity, vigorous exercise in very hot weather though they tend to be high in added sugars and calories.

More on severe weather: Lightning and Thunderstorms: Safety Tips for RVers

It’s also best to avoid drinks containing caffeine which acts as a diuretic and causes you to lose more fluids.

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith

Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

Look out for these heat exhaustion symptoms while camping

Dangerous temperatures exceeding 105 degrees Fahrenheit in select areas of the Southeast and Southwest have prompted excessive heat warnings. The weather conditions pose a threat to young children, older adults, and anyone who doesn’t take the right safety precautions before and during the heat wave.

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last year, 43 Texas State Parks reported 102 heat-related illnesses in humans and pets. Since January 1, 54 heat-related incidents have already been reported, compared to 34 reported by this time last year, according to a news release from the department in late June.

Heat-related incidents can be prevented with a few measures to ensure that both you and your family can safely get through this heat wave.

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a very real threat to anyone who spends a lot of time in the sun. Even though it’s not always obvious from the get-go, several heat exhaustion symptoms can let you know there’s a problem. 

As someone who has experienced heat exhaustion, it’s not a fun time! It interrupted my whole day and left me feeling weak, nauseous, and shaky. 

Below, I’ll provide a comprehensive guide to heat exhaustion including its prevention, symptoms, treatment options, and the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


With temperatures soaring into the triple digits, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shared their suggestions for staying safe in the outdoors. Here are their top six heat hacks:

>> Hydrate: It’s important to drink at least 16 ounces of water every hour in the heat to replenish your body and prevent dehydration. Don’t forget to bring enough for your four-legged family members too.

More on severe weather: Arrival of Summer: On Dehydration, Hurricane Season & RVs

>> Block the Rays: Apply a generous amount of sunscreen or sunblock before heading outdoors. Be sure to reapply every couple of hours and after swimming or sweating.

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Dress Smart: Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing; a wide-brimmed hat, correct shoes, sunscreen, and wet bandanas to keep you cool while in the sun. For pets, protect paws against blistering by hitting the trails during cooler times of the day when the ground isn’t hot or by putting booties on pets to help shield paws from the hot ground. Touch the pavement or ground with the back of your hand. If you cannot hold it there for five seconds, the surface is too hot for your dog’s paws.

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Stay Salty: Food helps keep up energy and replace salt lost from sweating. Eating snacks such as jerky, granola, trail mix, tuna, and dried fruit is a fantastic way to nourish your body while on the trails.

>> Buddy System: Two brains are better than one. It’s beneficial to have someone with you in hot conditions so you can look after each other on the trail. With high temperatures, heat-related illnesses are common, and having a friend around to help recognize the early symptoms can save you from getting sick.

Peralta Trailhead, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Plan Ahead: Study the map and have it with you, avoid relying on your phone for maps since service may be unavailable in back-country areas. Average hikers move at 2 miles per hour, so allow yourself plenty of time to avoid hiking in the heat of the day. Make sure to rest in a cool or shaded area to recover from the heat if necessary. It is also a good idea to let someone know your plan before you hit the trails and what time you should be back. That way, if you become lost, people know where to look.

Desert Hot Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be aware of the heat and humidity index. A relative humidity of 60 percent or higher makes it hard for sweat to evaporate off your body. This can then lead to overheating, reports WebMD. You can experience heat exhaustion on any warm day but the risk increases exponentially if the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more. If the heat and humidity are high, limit strenuous activity and try to stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day. 

More on severe weather: Hurricane Season: Staying Safe in your RV

Know if you are in a high-risk group. Heat exhaustion can affect anyone but the most vulnerable are those who are young and old: Children younger than 5 and adults older than 65 need to take extra precautions to avoid heat exhaustion.

Palm Desert, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you do plan to spend time outdoors during a particularly hot or humid day, you can form good habits to protect yourself. First of all, hydrate! Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you’re not feeling thirsty. 

Wear appropriate clothing and sun protection. Wear loose, light-colored clothing that is breathable. A breathable wide-brimmed hat will help you stay cool. Apply sunscreen frequently as well. If you have severe sunburn, you’re more likely to develop heat exhaustion because your body is warmer than usual according to Health Line.

Finally, NEVER leave children or pets in cars on hot days. This is common sense for most people but a reminder is still needed. Even adults can become overheated if they spend too much time in this environment! 

Palmetto State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


First things first, you need to know the warning signs for heat exhaustion. This usually builds up over time and doesn’t hit you all at once. Some people might experience every symptom while others only have a few.

According to the Mayo Clinic the heat exhaustion symptoms and warning signs to watch for include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cool, damp skin
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Low blood pressure (especially when standing up quickly)
  • Swollen feet or hands
  • Shallow breathing
  • Dark urine
  • Pale skin
  • Fainting
  • Confusion

If you or someone around you is experiencing these heat exhaustion symptoms, it’s important to treat them immediately. Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke if it isn’t promptly dealt with. 

More on severe weather: Severe Weather: Tornado Safety Tips for RVers

Tucson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Treatment options

Once heat exhaustion has set in, there are several things you can do to treat yourself or others according to the Cleveland Clinic. It’s best if you can get someone to help you because a person who is affected shouldn’t be moving around too much. 

First of all, heat exhaustion occurs when your body gets too hot and cannot cool itself down. This is especially common in areas with high heat and high humidity (because your sweat cannot evaporate and cool you down). 

Your priority needs to be lowering your body temperature. If possible, go indoors and find a cool room and lie down. Otherwise, look for a shady area where you can get out of the sun. Don’t exert yourself in this condition. 

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You need to hydrate. Heat exhaustion commonly occurs when someone is dehydrated because they don’t have enough fluids to produce cooling sweat. Drink cool water or sports drinks to replenish fluids and electrolytes. Don’t gulp it down, but take small sips so you can slowly adjust. If you drink too much too soon, you’ll cause more harm than good. Avoid soda and alcohol during this time. 

Finally, try to cool down with exterior methods. You can use cold washcloths, air conditioning, fans, or a cool bath/shower to lower your body temperature. If the affected person is wearing tight, restrictive clothing, that should also be removed. 

More on severe weather: Hail Can Be a Killer Especially For Your RV

Try all of the methods above for about one hour. If the heat exhaustion symptoms don’t improve during this period, it’s time to seek medical attention.

Usery Mountain Park, Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat stroke

Heat exhaustion isn’t fun to deal with but most people who receive proper treatment make a full recovery within a day or two. However, if the exhaustion is left untreated, it can rapidly change into heat stroke. 

This is a serious medical emergency that can end in death. A heat stroke occurs when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. It can cause brain damage and can be life-threatening for most people reports the Mayo Clinic.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to Health Line, symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • High fever (104 or higher)
  • Flushed, red skin
  • Headache
  • Delirium
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Coma
El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If heat stroke has begun to set in, you need to seek medical help immediately. While you wait for them to arrive, do everything possible to lower the body temperature of the affected person. Immerse them in a cold bath, mist the skin with cool water, or apply ice packs to high blood flow areas (wrists, neck, groin, armpits). Get them out of the sun and keep them still until help arrives, states the Mayo Clinic.

More on severe weather: Handling Cold Weather in Your RV

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke need to be taken seriously. If you feel like you’re becoming dizzy, weak, or nauseous after spending time in the sun, take care of yourself as soon as possible. These conditions can quickly get worse if you ignore them. 

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith