The news reports have been plenty scary; however, while July 2023 shapes up to be the hottest month on record globally, and portions of California have sizzled under unrelenting and occasional record-breaking heat, Orange County has been largely spared.
That is not to say it hasn’t been plenty hot at times, or that residents shouldn’t take precautions against heat exposure and illness, or that temperatures and weather patterns can’t change quickly.
Awareness of the dangers of heat and exposure is vital and ReadyOC, Orange County’s preparedness resource, is sharing valuable information on dealing with Extreme Heat. According to ReadyOC, ”Studies show that a significant rise in heat-related illnesses occurs when excessive heat lasts for more than two days.”
As Dr. Chinsio-Kwong, County Health Officer for the County of Orange says, “While local temperatures have not risen to an alert phase for a local advisory, residents should prepare, learn best practice to reduce temperatures in the household, learn who may be at higher risk, understand ways to prevent heat illness, and be aware of heat illness symptoms and when to seek medical attention or when to call 911.”
County preparations for excessive heat are based on National Weather Service forecasts of weather events and begin 24 to 72 hours before the predicted onset. These can range from heat advisories, in which temperatures are forecast between 95 and 100 for one to three days, to excessive heat watches and warnings, in advance of potentially extended forecasts of 100-110.
Orange County has not been under those conditions this year, although Anaheim and inland Orange County temperatures topped out at about 94 degrees on July 26. In fact, according to UCLA meteorologist Daniel Swain during a virtual weather and climate briefing, California is “one of the only locales in the entire world, in fact, that has been, until recently, near or below average, temperature-wise.” And prior to July, “parts of coastal California have been well below average.”
As a general rule, however, California is becoming hotter due to climate change, although meteorologists note regional seasonal and annual fluctuations still occur. Overall the state is just two years removed from its hottest July in 2021, when temperatures were a whopping 5.3 degrees above normal.
It only takes a short time for weather and patterns to shift drastically, as the recent July heatwave has shown. Awareness is particularly important for certain vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, young children, the disabled, outdoor workers and those experiencing homelessness.
The elderly and children age four and under are more vulnerable to heat stress because they do not adjust as well to changes in temperature. Excessive heat also increases the likelihood of heart attacks, worsens asthma, interferes with regulation of blood sugar in diabetics, and can cause depression or anxiety.
Heat stroke can be life threatening, as the body loses its ability to control temperature. Symptoms can include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, confusion, feeling weak, headache, nausea or vomiting, tiredness, and dizziness.
The Orange County Health Care Agency advises, “If you feel you may be adversely affected by the heat, immediately move to a cooler area if possible, loosen/lighten clothing, hydrate with water, and use other cooling measures – such as wet cloth- apply to neck/under arms/groin – and contact a health care provider/seek medical attention for further guidance.”
As with any disaster or potentially dangerous weather event, preparedness is key.
HeatReadyCA.com, the nation’s first statewide awareness and education campaign to keep people safe during extreme heat, recommends residents Make a Personalized Plan for how to respond during times of extreme heat. The section includes a personalized quiz as well as a safety checklist and tips to stay cool. The checklist and tips vary depending on your answers to the quiz.
According to ReadyOC, “ Spending even two hours per day in air-conditioned spaces can significantly reduce the number of heat-related illnesses.”
Here are some important considerations from ReadyOC:
- Check the local weather forecast and news reports regularly.
- Find a cooling center or other area where you can cool off such as libraries, community centers, senior centers, shopping centers and malls, and county parks with interior air-conditioned spaces open to the public.
- At home, cover windows with drapes/shades. Heat waves can cause increased power usage so set your air-conditioning to 75 to 80 degrees and sign up for Flex Alert notices in your neighborhood.
- Stay hydrated, drink two to four glasses of water per hour during times of extreme heat and regularly intake fluids throughout the day. Avoid alcohol, sugary or caffeinated beverages.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing with light, natural fibers, such as cotton or linen that absorb sweat and dry quickly.
- Stay in the shade if possible and wear wide-brimmed hats as well as sunscreen.
- Avoid the sun if you can, staying indoors from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when sun rays are strongest and the temperature its highest. Try to plan outdoor activities early in the morning or later in the evening. Avoid overly strenuous activities.
- Don’t forget about pets and provide water and shade if outside. Do not lock them inside a car.
- Check regularly on those who are at a higher risk of heat-related illnesses.
Other resources to check out on extreme heat:
Red Cross (includes extreme heat safety checklist in nine languages)
Centers for Disease Control extreme heat tips