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

Lightning and Thunderstorms: Safety Tips for RVers

If you can hear thunder, lightning is not far away

We don’t usually plan our RV trips around thunderstorms or other severe weather. If we knew we’d be spending our vacations taking cover, most likely we’d reschedule our trips. But storms occur throughout the year in just about every place in the world, so they are a fact we simply have to accept. And accepting the reality of storms should prompt us to prepare for how storms can affect us when we’re traveling in our RVs.

The most basic preparation is an emergency preparedness kit that includes a first aid kit. Make sure you check it regularly to ensure that any used supplies have been replaced and that nothing has passed its expiration date.

Be alert to threatening weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat lightning

The term heat lightning is commonly used to describe lightning from a distant thunderstorm just too far away to see the actual cloud-to-ground flash or to hear the accompanying thunder. While many people incorrectly think that heat lightning is a specific type of lightning, it is simply the light produced by a distant thunderstorm.

An old term to describe summertime storms! After all, all lightning is “hot”—the typical bolt of lightning has a temperature of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Ouch!

Flash flood in the Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thunderstorm facts

The definition of a severe thunderstorm is one producing hail one inch in diameter (size of a quarter) or winds of 58 mph or more.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), “Each year across America there are on average 10,000 thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, 1,000 tornadoes, and six named hurricanes.” The NWS pointed out that weather disasters lead to about 500 deaths annually.

Every thunderstorm produces lightning.

Thunderstorms can produce high winds that can damage property.

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

Park led evacuation following a flash flood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thunderstorms can cause flash flooding.

Lightning kills more people annually than tornadoes or hurricanes.

A thunderstorm WATCH means that conditions are right for a thunderstorm to develop in the watch area. Be ready to take cover or evacuate.

A thunderstorm WARNING means that a severe thunderstorm has been reported or detected on radar threatening danger to property or life. Take cover or evacuate if there is time and a safe escape route.

Cleanup following a flash flood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you hear it—clear it

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), if you can hear thunder, the storm is close enough that lightning could strike your location at any moment! NWS strongly urges that “If you hear it—clear it!”

All RVers need to remember the Flash to Bang or 30/30 Lightning Rule. If a thunderstorm develops, count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the bang of the thunder to estimate the distance between you and the lightning strike. Because sound travels at about one mile in five seconds, you can determine how far away the lightning is by using this ‘flash-to-bang’ method.

It’s recommended you seek shelter if the time between the lightning flash and the sound of thunder is 30 seconds or less, or six miles away. Once you’re an inside shelter, you should not resume activities until 30 minutes after the last audible thunder.

Be alert to threatening weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay informed with local weather forecasts

Unless you’ve RVing in the wilderness, there will be a way to monitor the weather and learn about impending thunderstorms. Cell phones, Internet weather reports, NOAA radios, TV news, weather stations, and local warning systems are some of the ways to be aware of weather threats.

If you’re staying at an RV Park the manager may alert park guests when severe weather is approaching. But it’s advisable to enquire about storm or tornado shelters and local warning systems when registering at the campground.

More on severe weather: Tornado Safety Tips for RVers

NOAA’s NWS, WeatherBug, Weather.com, and other online weather sites can give you a three- to ten-day forecast.

Camping under trees can be hazardous in severe weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check your RV and site for safety

Most RVers like shady sites on hot summer days. But shade usually comes from trees. Check the trees and shrubs at your site for sturdy branches or ones that might break under high wind conditions. Large branches can cause severe damage to your RV and toad/tow vehicle if not injuries to people. If you notice weak branches ask your park owner to trim them.

>>Check your site for chairs, tables, toys, BBQs, and other objects that can become projectiles in high winds. Bring them inside, tie them down, or secure them in some other way.

Bring your pets inside during inclement weather © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>>Bring your animals inside during threatening weather.

>>Get your emergency preparedness kit out.

>>Make sure your outside storage doors are closed and locked.

>>Retract any awnings and ensure they’re securely fastened.

>>Close and latch your windows.

>>If you are going to evacuate, leave early, and make sure you are not heading into the storm.

Rockport-Fulton (Texas) following major hurricane destruction © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take cover before the storm arrives

The safest place to locate during a thunderstorm—if you choose not to evacuate­—is in the basement of a sturdy building. This area will give you the greatest protection from lightning, winds, tornados, and flying objects. The next safest area is an inside room with no windows and plenty of walls between you and the storm.

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

Like mobile homes, RVs can be blown over in high winds. They’re not the safest place to be. But if you have no alternative, stay in a hallway away from windows and cabinets that can fly open turning their contents into projectiles.

Hurricane damage on the Texas Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you see lightning or hear thunder, stay inside.

Stay inside for about 30 minutes after you hear the last thunderclap.

Unplug electronics like TVs, DVDs, computers, coffee pots, and so forth. Use cell phones and battery-powered devices. A battery-powered NOAA radio would be very useful at a time like this.

Cleaning up following a flash flood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other Dangers

Both during and after a severe thunderstorm flooding may be a problem. If you are in a low area, move to higher ground. Some RV parks have a flood gauge showing five or six feet above their entry driveway.

If you are traveling and come across a flooded roadway, don’t try to drive through it. You could get washed away if the water is moving rapidly. Or, if there are downed power lines in that water, you could be electrocuted.

Park directed evacuation following a flash flood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lightning strikes can split trees, breaking large branches off, and start wildfires.

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

If someone has been struck by lightning, call 911 and start CPR immediately. The American Heart Association has a “learn CPR in one minute eight seconds” course that teaches CPR well enough that anyone can deliver effective CPR in such an emergency.

Worth Pondering…

If I accept the sunshine and warmth, then I must also accept the thunder and lightning.

—Khalil Gibran