10 Tips to Stay Safe in a Heatwave

Updated: Dec. 15, 2023

With extreme weather phenomena becoming more common, there's never been a better time to brush up on your safety skills!

Exhausted Construction Worker Sweating At Construction Site with hard hat in handFG TRADE/GETTY IMAGES

With temperatures rising dramatically all across the US, it’s more important than ever to prepare your household for extreme heat conditions. While you may have already proofed your garden for the heatwave or set your air conditioner, it’s also crucial to think of your personal health and safety.

Follow these ten tips from the National Weather Service and the American Red Cross to keep you and your family safe during an excessive heat event.

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Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

The best thing you can do for your body in heat is to drink a lot of water. However, optimal hydration also depends on how you drink water. According to the Red Cross, the average person should aim for 3/4 gallon daily, but individual needs vary. Check your urine to understand your own needs; darker yellow urine indicates dehydration.

Additionally, aim for water that isn’t too cold and keep sipping it even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid sugary, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks, which can dehydrate you faster. If you take any medications or are on a fluid-restrictive diet, talk to your doctor about your specific hydration needs.

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Eat Light

Consume light, cool, and easy to-digest foods like fruit and salads. (Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet will also help hydrate your body.) Avoid heavy foods that might upset your stomach, as these could lead to greater fluid loss. Also avoid foods containing excess salt, which will dehydrate you further.

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Slow Down

Reduce your strenuous activities, especially during peak temperature hours. While many healthy individuals can still exercise outdoors during a heatwave, ensure that you are doing so during the coolest times of day (morning and evening) and reduce the duration and/or intensity of your exercise.

Vulnerable populations, such as infants, children, pregnant people, senior citizens and anyone with relevant preexisting medical conditions, should especially avoid strenuous activity. If you must be outside for your job, follow these tips to protect your team from heat stress.

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Dress Appropriately

During a heatwave, aim for lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing. Light textures will feel most comfortable on your body while light colors will reflect the sun’s harsh rays. Additionally, try to cover as much skin as you can with UV-protective clothing, including sun hats. This will minimize your exposure to the sun and prevent sunburn, in turn helping your body regulate its temperature.

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Stay Sheltered

As much as possible, stay in cool, shaded places. While staying inside your home may be the obvious choice, it isn’t always the coolest one, as the National Weather Service points out. For example, if you live in an upper-floor apartment without air conditioning, the heat may rise over the course of the day, making your space warmer than outside. Instead, try to frequent air-conditioned public spaces, such as a library or shopping mall. Even riding air-conditioned buses can be a great way to get a break from the heat!

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Air Conditioner in house window on a summer, sunny day
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Think Beyond the Fan

Portable electric fans can be good tools for temperature regulation, but only when used correctly. If you are using a fan, position it so that it expels hot air from a room and draws in cooler air. However, as the Red Cross points out, “When temperatures are in the high 90s, fans may not prevent heat-related illness”—in fact, they can dehydrate you more in extreme heat. So, opt for an installed or portable air conditioning unit instead.

Make sure the unit is functioning properly; ideally, perform any maintenance tasks or repairs to your cooling system before a heatwave strikes. Additionally, try our favorite creative ways to cool your house in the summer and take frequent cool showers or baths to regulate your body temperature.

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Emergency Preparedness Natural Disaster Supplies including Water, Flashlight, Lantern, Batteries and a radio
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Gather Emergency Supplies

Stores can close during heatwaves and sometimes the power can go out. To prepare for the worst, keep at least 2 weeks’ worth of food, water, and necessary medications on-hand. For water rations, aim for 1 gallon of water per person per day, stored correctly. Additionally, include beverages with electrolytes, sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats and a first-aid kit. The Red Cross also recommends making a “Go Bag” of three days’ worth of supplies and extra batteries or chargers for your devices if you have to evacuate your home due to a fire.

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Smart Phone Tornado Alert Warning
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Keep Connected

Maintaining access to weather updates is critical during natural disasters. With that in mind, plan to monitor your local news and sign up for emergency public safety alerts from your local government. You can also download specific weather emergency apps. Keep your cell phones charged and use a battery-powered radio, if necessary. Be sure to keep a backup charging block and extra batteries on hand. Lastly, understand the language safety alerts may use: a “watch” indicates that you should prepare for an emergency event, while a “warning” means you need to take action.

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Exhausted Construction Worker At Construction Site
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Know the Signs of Heat Illness

There are three key phases of heat illness: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Before a heatwave, read up on the key symptoms of each stage of heat illness, especially heat stroke. Recognizing these signs—and knowing how to respond to them correctly—can save someone’s life in a medical emergency. Notably, if someone is vomiting and/or experiencing a body temperature of 103 degrees or higher, call 911 immediately and do not give them fluids. Make sure you are familiar with CPR procedures just in case someone passes out before help can arrive.

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Check In on Each Other

Lastly, it takes a village to survive emergency circumstances. With this in mind, check in on your neighbors and friends, especially those who live alone or may struggle with mobility-limiting conditions. Help them as you are able when it is safe to do so, and learn their emergency contacts and phone numbers. By working together, we can all stay safe during extreme heat.