By Charly SHELTON
Temperatures have reached above 100 degrees over the last few weeks and people around the Crescenta Valley are succumbing to overheating. From overheated to heat exhaustion to heat stroke, this slippery slope can prove fatal if left unchecked. As responsible residents of a Mediterranean climate (according to the Köppen classification system), knowing how to survive the heat just might save a life, possibly your own.
“Certainly any time that we have heat waves I’m not surprised to see [people succumbing to heat exhaustion or heat stroke],” said Dr. John Rodarte, vice chair of pediatrics at Huntington Hospital. “People need to be cautious when it gets this hot to curtail some regular activities to compensate for that heat as well.”
The signs of dehydration are clear and can lead to heat exhaustion and then heat stroke.
“Dehydration certainly is one thing,” said Rodarte, “so if you’re dehydrated, your heart starts beating a little faster, you might feel a little lightheaded [with] less urination output.”
He went on to explain that, if left unattended, heat exhaustion could come next. Rodarte said the symptoms of heat exhaustion feel like the flu, with a little headache, a little weakness, a little nausea, possibly even vomiting. Blood pressure is a little low so when people stand up fast they become a little lightheaded and the heart is beating faster.
“You’re still sweating during heat exhaustion,” he added.
The next phase is heat stroke, which Rodarte described as “kind of a late stage.” At that point the body’s temperature is going up, and mental status might be altered. Other symptoms include low blood pressure, high heart rate, and, at this point, the body is no longer sweating and it cannot cool itself.
“You definitely don’t want to get to the heat stroke portion of it,” Rodarte said. “If you start seeing signs of heat exhaustion, that’s when you need to start dealing with it.”
But despite that heat stroke can be a serious, life threatening ailment, it is easily preventable. Ensuring homes have proper insulation can go a long way to keeping the house cool, while cutting down on air conditioner bills as well.
“Not everybody has air-conditioning but that’s a great help to be in air conditioning,” Rodarte said. For those without air-conditioning he advises making sure there’s proper ventilation in the room or office, cooling down by using a fan, being hydrated – “water is great, things with electrolytes work, [drink] less caffeine because caffeine actually has a mild diuretic in it so it can make you more dehydrated if you drink too much caffeine.”
He added that wearing the proper clothing is also important.
“This is not the time for your hoodie and your long black sleeved clothes. Lighter clothing kind of reflects the heat and it absorbs less of it so it’s better for lighter clothing as well,” said Dr. Rodarte.
In addition to heat effects on residents, the extreme weather itself can have an impact under the right circumstances. While tornadoes are not uncommon in the Midwest due to hot and humid weather accompanied by sudden temperature drops, they are not common in the Los Angeles area; however, they are possible and do occur at a rate of about one per year.
“First of all, we can [have tornadoes in L.A.],” said Stuart Seto, weather specialist with the National Weather Service. “Some have occurred, usually they’re very small, small cells, they are on a scale of EF0 to EF6 and we have had some EF0s in the area. They rarely happen.”
While they can occur on land, they are more commonly found off the shore as waterspouts and can come on land where they are “small and very-short lived” said Seto.
The reason we don’t get tornadoes as often is due to the way storms form and the strength of the storm, Seto added.
“Out [in the Midwest], they get a lot of taller storms and a lot more density and unstable air. That’s why they are always so small [in Los Angeles], out there they get even bigger. They get up to EF3s and EF4s, and up to EF6s. It’s more based on how big the thunderstorms get and usually the more intense the thunderstorm, which usually are called super cells, [the higher the likelihood that they become] the ones that produce tornadoes. It’s a matter of air instability and the strength of the storm. Mostly when we get ours, it has to be a certain type of weather pattern that sets up – usually a little bit of a low off the coast.”
Though tornadoes are less likely, heat effects are all too common. Stay indoors and near air conditioning or fans when possible, stay hydrated and be sure to dress for the weather. And although on a hot day ice cream may sound like the perfect treat, water can do more to keep a body healthy in the heat.
“I think ice cream mentally sounds great but really the total body hydration of water is going to do you a little bit better,” said Rodarte. “Because during the heat, typically you’re sweating and you have other losses that you’re making up for from a hydration standpoint, which is why water is the better thing physically, although mentally ice cream doesn’t hurt.”