As the Atlantic hurricane season begins and summer is approaching, the Wolf Administration urges Pennsylvanians to have an emergency plan in place and to be aware of dangerous impacts that extreme heat can have on themselves and their neighbors, especially the elderly and other vulnerable populations.
It is important now more than ever to be prepared for hazardous weather. Increases in storm intensities, rainfall, and record heat events have impacted Pennsylvania over the past decades, with this rising trend expected to continue according to climate reports from the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources.
“It is essential that everyone take proper steps to be prepared as we kickoff the 2021 hurricane season,” PEMA Director Randy Padfield said. “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center is predicting another above average hurricane season. Any actions to protect yourself from immediate threats to life should take priority, such as evacuating before a hurricane or tropical storm.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), tropical storms are storms with winds between 39 and 73 miles per hour that can bring heavy rain, lightning and significant flooding. Hurricanes are storms with winds at or above 74 miles per hour. Hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage from heavy rain, severe flooding, lightning, high winds, storm surge and tornadoes.
No matter where someone lives in Pennsylvania, it is important to prepare for the effects of a tropical storm. Everyone should have an emergency plan, including what they would do if they need to evacuate their home due to an approaching storm or severe flooding. Flooding from heavy rain is the most common topical hazard in Pennsylvania, so residents should consider purchasing flood insurance, regardless of their relation to federally-identified floodplains, as most homeowners and renters insurance policies do not cover this hazard. Federal flood insurance policies take 30 days to go into effect, so acting now is important.
Padfield said PEMA routinely works with state and county partners to ensure they are ready for any emergency, including the effects of tropical storm systems.
Families should check to make sure their home emergency kits are fully stocked with essential items, as power can take days to restore after a tropical storm or hurricane. A home emergency kit should contain:
- non-perishable food;
- bottled water (one gallon per person per day. A family of 4 needs a minimum of 12 gallons);
- flashlight with spare batteries;
- first aid kit;
- warm clothing; and
- any specialized items such as baby supplies or pet food.
In addition to traditional emergency kit items while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, include an extra clean face mask for each person in the household, especially if you are not vaccinated. Research shows that mask-wearing reduces risk of infection from COVID-19, while not wearing a mask greatly increases a person’s chances of being infected by this contagious and deadly virus.
“In addition to preparing for hurricane season, we are also starting to see consistently warmer weather which means we must practice heat safety as well,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “The combination of heat and humidity can be deadly for people and pets who are not able to keep themselves cool. Exposure to high temperatures for long periods of time can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke. We ask all Pennsylvanians to be a good neighbor and check on people who may have limited mobility or may not have a way to escape the heat.”
As hot days become hotter and more frequent, and durations of heat waves grow longer, we need to ensure at-risk populations are resilient to the impacts of high-heat. There are several groups of people who are at-risk of developing heat-related health conditions during high temperatures. Those groups include infants and young children, people 65 years of age and older, people with chronic medical conditions, and those who must work outdoors. It is important to make sure these groups are monitored on hot days.
It is also important to know the difference between heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Symptoms of heat stroke include a high body temperature (above 103°F); red, hot and dry skin, but no sweating; a rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and unconsciousness.
If you think someone is having a heat stroke, it is important to first call 9-1-1. After calling for help, get the person to a shady area and quickly cool them down by putting them in a tub of cool water or spraying them with a garden hose. You should not give the victim any fluids, including water, to drink.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, fainting, and nausea or vomiting. Help the person cool off and seek medical attention if symptoms are severe, symptoms last more than one hour, or the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure. Extremely hot weather can make you sick, and extreme heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the United States each year.
Remember to wear:
- Lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing;
- A hat or visor;
- Sunglasses; and SPF 30 or higher sunscreen with broad spectrum coverage (reapply as necessary).
To stay hydrated:
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day – do not wait until you are thirsty.
- Outdoor workers should drink between two and four cups of water every hour.
- Avoid consuming caffeinated, alcoholic, or sugary beverages.
- Replace salt lost from sweating by drinking fruit juice or sports drinks.
To safely exercise:
- Limit outdoor exercise and stay indoors in air conditioning on hot days.
- Exercise early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the hottest part of the day (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.).
- Pace yourself when you walk, run, or otherwise exert your body.
To protect others:
- Never leave children or older adults in a vehicle.
- Check on people who may be more at risk of developing health issues from extreme temperatures like:
- Infants and young children
- People ages 65 and older
- People with chronic medical conditions
To protect pets:
- Never leave pets in a vehicle.
- Provide ample shade and water when outdoors.
- Keep their bare paws off of asphalt.
- Limit exercise on hot days.
- Watch for signs of heat stroke.
More information on how to deal with the heat and stay safe during a tropical storm or hurricane, visit the Department of Health’s website at www.health.pa.gov or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, the ReadyPA portal contains detailed information and tips for dealing with a variety of natural or man-made disasters that Pennsylvanians may face; visit online at www.ready.pa.gov.