Although the official start of summer is still almost two weeks away, the heat has already arrived. Temperatures reached 106 degrees on Monday — one degree short of the record high of 107 seen in 2013 — and are forecast to stay near the century mark through the weekend.
The clouds rolled in on Tuesday to give some relief from the beating sun, but blowing dust from gusting winds prompted local air pollution officials to issue a health alert for Stanislaus, Merced and the six other counties part of the San Joaquin Valley air basin.
Winds can produce areas of localized blowing dust, which can result in unhealthy concentrations of particulate matter 10 microns and smaller (PM10). Exposure to particulate pollution can cause serious health problems, aggravate lung disease, trigger asthma attacks and bronchitis and increase risk of respiratory infections.
Where conditions warrant, people with heart or lung disease were cautioned to follow their doctors’ advice for dealing with episodes of particulate exposure. Additionally, older adults and children should avoid prolonged exposure or heavy exertion, depending on their local conditions.
The triple digit temperatures warranted concern from the California Department of Public Health, which released a statement warning residents of the dangers associated with what they predict to be a very hot and dry summer.
“Because this hot spell has come on rather suddenly, many people may be caught off guard by the warm up,” said CDPH Director Karen Smith. “It is important that all Californians take precautions to prevent heat-related illness and stay hydrated.”
According to CDPH, individuals with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory diseases should keep outdoor activities to a minimum. Children with these conditions should also not participate in outdoor physical activity and stay indoors as much as possible if involved in summer schools or programs.
Although everyone is susceptible to dangerous outcomes produced by extreme heat, young children, the elderly, people with chronic diseases, pregnant women, people with disabilities and people who are socially isolated are especially vulnerable.
Heat-related illnesses include cramps, heat exhaustion, heat rashes, and heat stroke, which could lead to death. Warning signs of heat-related illnesses include dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headache, paleness, weakness, heavy sweating, or fainting.
In order to stay safe in extreme heat, Smith offers a number of tips, including using cool compresses, misting, showers, and baths to prevent overheating, wearing a wide-brimmed hat to cover the face and neck, and checking on elderly who live alone every 24 hours.
Those faced with heat exhaustion are encouraged to drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages, rest, take a cool shower or bath, wear lightweight clothing, and seek an air-conditioned environment. Heat rash can be mitigated by relocating to a cooler, less humid environment, while keeping the affected area dry.
Heat cramps, which are characterized by muscle pains or spasms usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs, can be alleviated by stopping all activity, drinking clear juice or a sports beverage, and refraining from strenuous activities for a few hours after cramps subside.
If cramps do not subside in one hour, affected individuals should seek medical attention.
As the most severe heat-related illness, heat stroke is when the body is unable to control its temperature, causing body temperature to rise rapidly in a short period of time. If emergency treatment is not provided, heat stroke can lead to permanent disability or death.
If someone is exhibiting any warning signs associated with heat stroke, including extremely high body temperature, confusion, or unconsciousness, move them to a shady area, cool them down in any way possible, and get medical assistance as soon as possible.