Experts give advice amid heat wave

Kansas health experts emphasize preparation and awareness amid heat wave.



July 3, 2024 - 1:47 PM

Photo by Getty Images/Kansas Reflector

LAWRENCE — With no signs of hot, humid temperatures decreasing in the U.S., climate and health experts are urging the public to take extra precautions amid heat waves.

Experts say that because of global warming, temperatures are going to continue to rise each summer.

“With further changes in the climate, what we’re going to see is more variability, more extreme events,” said Kansas State University distinguished agronomy professor Chuck Rice. “Maybe even more heat waves, but also rainstorms.”

In a University of Kansas Health System news briefing Friday, a panel of physicians provided advice for staying safe in peak summer temperatures. They said the most vulnerable populations to the heat are the elderly, young children and those without access to air conditioning.

“We think about heat illness as a spectrum. You may have very simple symptoms,” said KU Health emergency physician Janak Patel. “Your body’s telling you, you know, you need to do something now, get into a cool environment. That’s a very life-threatening condition.”

KU Health cardiologist Shannon Hoos-Thompson stressed the importance of planning ahead for heat exposure, especially when you are going to switch to immediate cooler temperatures inside.

“That transition period is a very vulnerable period for people to get very lightheaded, pass out, get nauseated,” Hoos-Thompson said. “Planning ahead is very important. You’re vulnerable to that because if you have those conditions to begin with, and medicines may exacerbate that into a more severe event.”

The impact of the heat goes beyond those trying to enjoy their summer outside. Rice said Kansas crop growth will be affected by higher water evaporation rates and the increase of nighttime temperatures.

“For the U.S., daytime temperatures are not expected to increase a lot,” Rice said. “They will increase, but it’s really the nighttime temperatures that have already shown and will continue to show increases. At night time, they’re not photosynthesizing, but they are still active. So they’re losing a lot of the carbon that they absorbed for growth.”

According to the Fifth National Climate Assessment, a federal government report on climate change, rising temperatures heavily push back on crop yields nationwide. Heat introduces more disease in crops, less yields and dangerous conditions for agriculture workers and farmers.

In urban areas, the heat poses a different set of challenges. For homeless and low-income people, it can be difficult to find a place to cool down.

“Extreme temperatures in both the winter and summer months tend to increase the volume of requests for services by unhoused individuals and families,” said Ann Elifrits, homeless outreach team manager for the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence. “One of the most important things you can do is advocate for policies that prioritize stable housing as a primary solution to homelessness and as an act of climate justice.”

Low-income areas and neighborhoods often lack “climate-safe” infrastructure, according to the National Climate Assessment. With no air conditioning in extreme temperatures, short amounts of time spent outside can be dangerous.

“Really be aware of the symptoms that you’re experiencing. Get into a cool environment early,” Patel said. “Avoid those peak hours and try and delay activities to early morning or late in the evening when it’s cooler.”

Patel further emphasized the importance of community and checking in on friends, family and neighbors who are susceptible to extreme temperatures.