By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
If you’ve been outside at all this week then surely you’ve noticed it’s been hot. Very hot. It’s been downright uncomfortable, and with Memorial Day coming up soon, it seems Mother Nature wants to get a head start on the summer weather. And so that means it’s time to revisit some safety tips for dealing with the Rio Grande Valley’s specific brand of heat and sunshine.
Nestled by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre as we are, things tend to stay pretty humid throughout the summer here — upwards of 90 percent relative humidity. Southerly winds help carry that moisture overland, and oftentimes that Gulf breeze can feel more like the smack of a blast furnace rather than the kiss of a pleasant afternoon at the beach.
Combined, the warm winds and the high humidity can mean our bodies have to work harder to try to regulate our temperatures. Sweat, which typically helps keep us cool as it evaporates off our skin, is less able to do so when the atmosphere is already so saturated with moisture to begin with. As a result, we get less cooling bang for our sweating buck, but our bodies will keep trying anyway. That can be dangerous for two reasons: the first is that our bodies can begin to overheat and the second is that we can become dangerously dehydrated.
The two problems compound each other. Eventually, if things get bad enough, our bodies will begin to shut down. Essentially, prolonged exposure to the Valley’s unforgiving summer conditions can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Those unaccustomed to our climate, as well as the very young and the elderly, are at a higher risk of experiencing the harmful effects of heat.
But, even healthy adults should take precautions to ensure they stay safe outdoors. One way to do that is to stay hydrated. Carry a bottle of water with you if you’re going to be outside, even on a “cool” day where temps stay in the 80s. Your body will lose valuable sodium and other electrolytes from sweating, so you might also think about drinking a sports drink like Gatorade or PowerAde. Wear appropriate clothing while outdoors — that includes brimmed hats and light colored, loose fitting clothing made of breathable fabrics. And finally, if at all possible, avoid being outdoors or limit your time outdoors during the hottest parts of the day, from about 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. If you have to be outside during the day, especially if you’re doing strenuous activity, then try to stay in the shade.
Be attentive to signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you have a headache, feel like you’ve got brain fog, or start getting muscle cramps, then move indoors immediately. Cool down in some air conditioning and drink some juice or a sports drink. If you begin to vomit, notice that you’ve stopped sweating even though you still feel hot, feel disoriented, or feel like your heart is racing, then call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
Valley summers are no joking matter. What starts out as a day at the beach can quickly turn into a trip to the emergency room, so stay safe out there!
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