DEAR SUN SPOTS: What are the differences between an excessive heat outlook, a watch and a warning? What are the health risks? — No name, no town
ANSWER: Each National Weather Service Forecast Office issues heat-related reports as conditions warrant. NWS local offices often collaborate with local partners to determine when an alert should be issued for a local area.
Excessive heat outlooks are issued when the potential exists for an excessive heat event within the next three to seven days. An outlook provides information to those who need considerable lead-time to prepare for the event.
Excessive heat watches are issued when conditions arise for an excessive heat event in the next 24 to 72 hours. A watch is used when the risk of a heat wave has increased, but its occurrence and timing is uncertain. When you see heat watches reported, be prepared by planning outdoor activities accordingly.
When an excessive heat warning is issued, it means extremely dangerous heat conditions are on the way within 12 hours. The general rule of thumb for this warning is when the maximum heat index temperature is expected to be 105 degrees or higher for at least two days and nighttime temperatures won’t drop below 75 degrees. However, these criteria vary across the country, especially for areas not used to extreme heat conditions. If you don’t take precautions immediately when conditions are extreme, you may become seriously ill or even die.
During extremely hot, humid weather, the body’s ability to cool itself is severely compromised. When the body heats too rapidly to cool properly or when too much fluid or salt is lost through dehydration or sweating, body temperature rises and a heat-related illness may follow. It’s important to know the symptoms of excessive heat exposure and appropriate responses.
Heat cramps, usually painful muscle cramps in the legs and abdomen, along with heavy sweating, may be the first sign of heat-related illness, and may lead to heat exhaustion or stroke. To ease these symptoms, apply firm pressure on cramping muscles or gently massage to relieve spasm. Drink small sips of water unless there is nausea.
With heat exhaustion, symptoms are heavy sweating; weakness; cool, pale, clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; possible muscle cramps; dizziness; nausea or vomiting; and fainting. First aid for these symptoms includes moving to a cooler environment, preferably a place with a fan or air conditioning; loosening clothing and resting; applying cool, wet cloths to the body; and drinking small sips of water. If vomiting occurs more than once, seek immediate medical attention.
Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. Symptoms include one or more of the following: headache, confusion, nausea, dizziness, or shallow breathing. Body temperature will be above 103 degrees and be accompanied by hot, red, dry or moist skin; rapid, strong pulse; and loss of consciousness. Call 911 or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal. Move the victim to a cooler environment; reduce body temperature with cool cloths or bath; and use a fan only if heat index temperatures are below the high 90s. (A fan can make you hotter at higher temperatures.) Do not give fluids.
The above information is from the National Weather Service website (weather.gov/safety). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website provides more information. (cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heattips.html)
This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to email@example.com.