Staying Cool When the Weather is Hotter Than Hell

After living nearly my entire life in Phoenix, I know a think or two about hot weather and what it takes to stay cool, at least cool enough to survive. I can remember running as fast as possible across blistering hot asphalt in my bare feet and

This is an excerpt from my book, Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst Case Scenarios.

One of the most critical uses of electricity is staying cool in very hot weather. Our bodies can become quickly overheated, with young children and the elderly being most susceptible. I was in Chicago during one of its worst heat waves in 1995. Employees of the Hyatt Hotel where I was staying had to stand on the roof and hose down giant air-conditioning units with water in order to keep them running. In a matter of days, more than 700 people died because of this heat wave.

How did our ancestors survive, then, without air conditioning? I’ve spent my entire life in the American Southwest, and as you might expect, I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to staying cool:
1. Keep spray bottles of water around and spritz faces and wrists to stay cool.
2. In the earliest morning hours, open windows to let in all that cool air. Be sure to close them again, along with all blinds and curtains, once the day begins to heat up.
3. Just before bedtime, spray bed sheets with plenty of water, aim a battery-powered fan toward your side of the bed, jump in, and go to sleep, quickly!
4. Wear bathing suits around the house.
5. If you’ll be outside, wet a bandanna, place a few ice cubes down the center, diagonally, roll it up, and tie it around your neck.
6. Check doors and windows for incoming warm air and install weather-stripping if necessary. This will do double duty in the winter, when cold air is the enemy. Duct tape can substitute for weatherstripping if you’re desperate.
7. Check the western exposure of your home. If you have windows that face west, check into inexpensive blinds from Home Depot or Lowe’s. Even aluminum foil taped over your windows (gasp!) can help keep your home cooler.
8. If you need to do outside chores, do them in the morning when the sun rises or even earlier.
9. If you must, douse your naked body with water and stand in front of a battery-operated fan. Stock up on these fans and make sure you have plenty of batteries—and please close the blinds!
10. Take a slightly warm bath, as long as there is water in the hot water heater. It will lower your body temperature, making you feel cooler longer once you get out of the tub.
11. Drink those 8 glasses of water per day.
12. Plant fast-growing shade trees, particularly on the west side of your home. If they provide shade for outside windows, so much the better. Shade = cool.
13. Most of the hot air that enters your home comes through the windows. Thermal curtains may be the solution if your home has lots of windows. If that’s not an option, try using pushpins to hang blankets over each window.
14. If you long to be outdoors, fill a kiddie pool with water, sit down, and relax. Be sure to wear sunscreen! When the water gets too warm to enjoy, use it to water the plants.
15. Don’t overexert yourself. Avoid working up a sweat, if possible. Save physical labor for the cooler parts of the day. Take a lesson from desert animals: They rest in the shade or underground during the day and come out at night.
16. Fill a tub with a few inches of water and dangle your feet in it while you read a book.

My friend, Debbie, is a fanatic about keeping her electric bills as low as possible in the summer, so she follows many of the tips above, but right around lunchtime, when the most intense heat is on its way, she and her kids head for cooler locations: the public library, movie theater, mall, a friend’s house, public swimming pool, etc.

Be aware of the signs of heatstroke:

  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

Stay aware of the effects of heat on your own body as well as those around you. Succumbing to heat exhaustion or heat stroke means there’s one less adult for your family or group to depend on. In a grid-down scenario, it may be best to take care of many household tasks once the sun goes down.

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