The 20 Coolest Tips for Surviving Summer Heat Waves

HEAT WAVES BRING misery and death. More Americans die from heat waves than all the other extreme weather disasters–hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods combined.

Heat-wave deaths aren’t the worst natural disasters only in quantitative terms, but also in qualitative ones because they’re slow and preventable. There’s no telling when an earthquake will strike. But dangerous heat always comes announced, and it’s fairly easy to prevent human damage. Victims of heat tend to wilt gradually, alone and at home, out of touch with family, friends, and social-service providers who could save their lives simply by treating them with water or bringing them to an air-conditioned place.

The 2003 European heat wave killed 70,000, the majority of them in France.


In 2010, Russia, usually known for frigid temperatures, suffered wild fires and its worst drought for 40 years when the heat wave struck at the start of summer. The state weather agency declared that the country had not experienced such high temperatures for 1000 years. Thousands of people died in the heat wave, including scores who drowned while swimming drunk.

Last summer 18 people died in St. Louis during 10 consecutive days of 100-degree heat. Fortunately, this was  fewer than the 153 who died in St. Louis during a 14-day period in a 1980, or the 420 deaths recorded in 1936. We are dealing better with heat waves or perhaps more people have air conditioning.

So how do you deal with extreme heat? Here’s a list of tips compiled from numerous sources and based on my experiences of living through some miserable summers in Chicago, South Dakota, and Albuquerque.

  1. Slow down. When you are outside or in a place that is not air conditioned, face reality, move slowly and put your brain in low gear.
  2. Always be hydrating. Drink ice water, cold juice, non-caffeinated ice tea. Have it with you at all times. This is especially important if you live somewhere that is both hot and humid.
  3. Stay ahead of your thirst. Related to the above tip, don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink up, force yourself to drink and drink and drink.
  4. Sorry, no caffeine, no alcohol.  In case number 3 got you excited, a cold beer might be refreshing but it will suck the moisture out of your interior. Same with caffeinated drinks.
  5. Shut out the sunlight.  Even if your apartment or office is air conditioned, shut the blinds. Sunlight equals heat.
  6. Wear loose fitting clothes. Inside wear shorts, baggy T-Shirt, flip-flops. Forget the underwear and socks. When you are outside wear loose, long-sleeved clothes (shirts, pants, skirts) of light material. Keeping the sun off your skin provides more surface area for sweating, and so is actually cooler.  Wear a cap or straw hat.
  7. Change your schedule. Get up at 5 a.m., go for a walk while it still bearable. Get your work done early so you can crawl around the rest of the day.
  8. Crank up the fans. If you don’t have air conditioning and even if you do, promote air circulation throughout your house or office with fans. Start them up early in the day before it gets hot.
  9. Turn off the lights. Light bulbs emit heat so use your lights as little as possible. It’s a good idea to switch your bulbs to eco-friendly ones, such as fluorescent or LED bulbs because they emit lower levels of energy and thus, heat.
  10. Minimize the use of heat producing appliances. If you have to use the dishwasher, washing machine or dryer, if possible, use them at night or early in the morning.
  11. Don’t go anywhere. Except for places you have to go, such as work, avoid travel unless it is at night or early in the morning when it is much cooler.
  12. No cooking. Fix meals that don’t require cooking. You’ll only heat up the kitchen and yourself.
  13. Eat high water content foods. Many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, cantaloup,  grapes,  cucumber, and tomatoes, contain 90 percent or higher water content by weight. Eating them in abundance will keep you hydrated.
  14. Seek refuge. If you need relief from your hot house, go to an air-conditioned library, movie theater, or if your city has one, a designated cooling center.
  15. Utilize the cooling power of water. If you are feel like your body is getting too hot, cool it down by taking a long, cool shower or bath. Soak your feet in a bucket or pan of ice water. Utilize towels and bandannas soaked in cold, cold water. Apply an ice pack to various parts of your body.
  16. Use a hand fan.  Take one with you when you go outside, it can be a lifesaver on a hot bus or subway train.
  17. Use a water-filled spray bottle. Even better than a fan is a spray bottle with water that you have placed in a refrigerator until it is ice cold (nearly frozen is best). When you are outside, mist yourself with refreshing spritzes of chilled water.
  18. Create a “rice-sock” ice pack. Grab a an old sock, stuff it full of rice and put it into the freezer for a few hours. Stay cool at night by placing it under the covers with you. Rice retains the cold for long periods of time.
  19. Keep your car cool. If possible park in the shade or a garage, use a sunshade or window visor, dash cover or at least put a towel over the steering wheel. Keep windows open a crack when you park and if you can find one, buy a solar powered fan. Paired with cracked windows, a solar-powered fan can make your car feel downright pleasant during even the hottest summer days.
  20. Recognize symptoms of heat-related illness. Be on  the lookout for heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Call 911 if you or someone you know seems to be in danger.

If you are caring for someone who is elderly or has an illness that has compromised their immune system, be extra diligent. Make sure they are hydrated and keep them cool as possible. Check up on anyone you know who might be more susceptible to hyperthermia.

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