Feeling hot, hot, hot? You should. According to the federal government, the first half of 2006 has been the hottest in U.S., since weather recorded history began in 1895. The average temperature for the 48 neighboring states from January to June was 51.8 degrees, putting it at 3.4 degrees above average for the 20th century. And things aren’t going to be cooling down anytime soon.
Across the country, things have been heating up. Early this week, California had 110 degrees, Colorado hit 101, Kansas struck 108, and the National Weather Service had a report of 120 in South Dakota. New York City is expected to hit upper 90s to near 100 degrees this week. Mix in the humidity index, and those 90 degree temperatures could feel like 103. Showers and thunderstorms moving into the area are expected to ease some discomfort.
The high Fahrenheit marks are doing more damage than mere discomfort, however. An elderly woman was found in her home, dead of lung disease and heat stress in Philadelphia. A 3 year old in Indiana died after locking himself in a parked car during 90 degree weather. A New York subway lost power Monday, leaving commuters stranded for 2 Ã?Â½ hours; 70 people had to be evacuated. Planes were affected, too. Long Island’s LaGuardia International Airport had one of its four terminals, and part of a second one, lose power when equipment problems were triggered due to the excessive heat.
Illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke can also occur. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, a feeling of weakness, headache, a weak pulse, dizziness, fainting, nausea or vomiting and cold, clammy skin. A person suffering from heat exhaustion will have a body temperature that will appear normal. Heat stroke involves flushed and hot, dry skin, a weak or rapid pulse, shallow breathing, lack of sweating, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and unconsciousness. A heat stroke victim will have a high body temperature, and should seek medical help immediately.
In response to the heat wave, states have taken action. The NYC Office of Emergency Management has announced the opening of cooling centers throughout the five boroughs. The cooling centers, many senior and community centers, are air conditioned facilities that are open to the public. Illinois has also set up more than 130 office buildings as cooling centers. Detroit tried to ease temperatures by increasing the ac in 11 of its libraries for the public, while Kentucky residents in urgent need were given free fans or air conditioners.
Power companies have asked residents nation-wide to conserve energy to help prevent power outages. LIPA, the Long Island Power Authority, recorded a new high this past Monday, with 5,341 megawatts of electricity being used by Long Islanders. The last record setter was August 5, 2005 during a three day heat wave. LIPA has asked that customers cut down all non-essential electrical use. PJM Interconnection, a power company that operates 13 states, including the District of Columbia, has also requested that people cut back on electrical usage, especially between 3 pm and 7pm.
One way to save on energy is to set your air conditioner to no lower than 78 degrees. Another tip is to use the ac only when home, and set a timer to no more than a half hour to refresh your home before arriving. Turn off unnecessary appliances, and use ones with heavy electrical loads early in the morning or late at night.
A way to relieve some of the desert-like conditions is to stay out of the sun when possible, and to use a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 when sun exposure is unavoidable. Hats and lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing should also be worn. Fluid intake is important. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, even if thirst isn’t present. Water helps the body to cool down. Repeated baths of showers will help as well. Avoid strenuous activity, especially during 11 am to 4 pm, the time when the sun is at its strongest. Other precautions are to never leave children, seniors or pets in a parked car on hot days, check in with neighbors who are elderly or have special needs, and if spotting an open hydrant, call 311.
Illegally opened fire hydrants create a wasteful hazard. It lowers water pressure, pumping out 1,000 gallons of water per minute. This reduces the flow of water to hoses and pumps, making problems for hospitals and firemen. Another dangerous risk is that small children can be pushed into oncoming traffic by the force of the water. Hydrants are able to be opened legally, if equipped with a city-approved spray cap. A spray cap reduces the amount of water streaming out 25 gallons per minute. An adult 18 or over can obtain a spray cap at their local firehouse.