How to Weather the Heat

Friday: Why extreme heat should be treated like other natural disasters, and how you can stay safe.,

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ImageA landscape worker hauls palm fronds in the morning, before the midday heat builds in Palm Springs.
A landscape worker hauls palm fronds in the morning, before the midday heat builds in Palm Springs.Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

Good morning.

Californians are getting used to devastating, lengthy fire seasons. And if this year and the last are any indication (and they probably are), we’re also going to have to get used to extreme heat.

This year, heat waves have walloped the Pacific Northwest in particular. But Death Valley hit a whopping 130 degrees this year, as it did last year — possibly the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth — and temperatures across the state have prompted heat warnings as they have deepened the effects of the drought.

In other words, policymakers and residents across the West — in California not least of all — should view this moment as a kind of wake-up call.

“We need to treat extreme heat like other disasters,” Dr. David Eisenman told me. And he would know: He’s the director of the University of California, Los Angeles’s Center for Public Health and Disasters.

Broadly, Eisenman said raising public awareness might entail grading or naming heat waves, like hurricanes, so they are taken more seriously.

Most importantly, it means recognizing the ways in which dangerously hot temperatures affect already vulnerable communities. In poorer communities, there is often less shade from trees and other sources to block the scorching sun, and fewer households can afford air-conditioners.

As my colleague Christopher Flavelle reported, heat-related injuries in workplaces — including construction sites and warehouses — have been vastly undercounted.

The fact that these oppressive temperatures often coincide with fires that foul the air is also a looming mental health catastrophe, Eisenman said.

“Those same people who need to access the outdoors at night to cool down, to use the publicly available beaches and parks, are now at risk of the respiratory effects and cardiac effects of the pollutants that come off wildfires,” he said.

As wildfire season increasingly stretches over months, he said, people who may spend much of their time indoors will “have that locked-down, isolated feeling we all know from the pandemic.”

Still, Eisenman said, he’s not totally despairing: The rising awareness of the dangers posed by extreme heat is prompting urgent work to upgrade air-conditioner technology, to adapt architecture for the heat and to plant trees.

California is one of relatively few states that has worker-safety regulations regarding heat, he added. But he’s optimistic that more will develop such rules.

“I think in the next decade, we’re going to see a lot of push for change,” he said. “We’re going to see some practical results in the few years to come.”

In the meantime, I asked Dr. Maria Raven, chief of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, for some tips for staying safe in the heat, if you are going to go out:

  • Give yourself time to acclimate: Raven said it takes a week or two to get used to the heat. Increase the amount of time you spend outdoors each day gradually, if you can, by about 20 percent.

  • Go outside in the morning or evening: Even a five- or 10-degree temperature drop can make a big difference.

  • Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke: If you’ve got heat exhaustion, you’ll be sweating profusely, and you may feel a little nauseated. Your skin may be red and hot to the touch, as if you have a fever. If your body approaches heat stroke, which is severe enough to require medical attention, you will stop sweating, and your core temperature will elevate quickly.

  • Know what to do if you’re suffering from heat-related illness: The top priority, Raven said, is to hydrate. Drink water. You can also use ice packs (in the groin or armpits) and sit near a fan if possible.

  • Don’t push yourself, or anyone else, past comfort: “It can be a badge of honor to go and work out when it’s really hot, but it’s not worth it,” Raven said. That includes student athletes and employers. It’s crucial to give everyone who is outside in the heat time to rest and drink water.

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Patrons crowded the tiny interior of the Tiki-Ti bar on Sunset Boulevard as it reopened. Los Angeles County public health officials have urged people to resume wearing masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.Credit…Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Compiled by Steven Moity and Miles McKinley

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The new Our Lady of La Vang statue on the Christ Cathedral campus in Garden Grove, Calif. The 12-foot statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus standing on a cloud is carved from Italian white marble and weighs an estimated 16,000 pounds.Credit…Leonard Ortiz/Orange County Register, via Getty Images

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

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