Missouri summers, which bring a combination of high temperatures
and high humidity, can prove to be not only uncomfortable, but dangerous.
Residents should remember that the summer heat, particularly in
July and August, can pose a real danger. In August 2007, Missouri
experienced a heat wave that lasted approximately 21 days and resulted
in 34 hyperthermia deaths. The heat wave started Aug. 2 with a heat
index of 101 in Cape Girardeau and spread across the state. By Aug.
7, the five cities that Missouri’s Department of Health and
Senior Services receives daily heat data on from the National Weather
Service were experiencing heat indexes of 103 or higher. The heat
index remained in the upper 90s or higher in at least one of the
five areas until Aug. 25.
Of the 214 hyperthermia deaths in Missouri from 2000 to 2009, 112
(52 percent) were people age 65 years and older. Victims in this
population often live alone and have other complicating medical
conditions. Also, lack of air conditioning or the refusal to use
it for fear of higher utility bills, contribute to the number of
deaths in the senior population. Missourians should call the state's
toll-free abuse and neglect hotline at (800) 392-0210 to report
senior citizens or adults with disabilities suffering from the heat
and in need of assistance. The hotline operates 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
seven days a week.
Familiarize yourself with the terms used to identify heat hazards
- Heat Wave is a prolonged period of excessive
heat, often combined with excessive humidity.
- Heat Index is a number in degrees Fahrenheit
(F) that tells how hot it feels when relative humidity is added
to the air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase
the heat index by 15 degrees.
- Heat Cramps are muscle pains and spasms due
to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe,
they are often the first signal that the body is having trouble
with the heat.
- Heat Exhaustion typically occurs when people
exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids
are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases,
causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results
in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim’s condition
will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim
may suffer heat stroke.
- Heat Stroke is a life-threatening condition.
The victim’s temperature control system, which produces
sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature
can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the
body is not cooled quickly.
- Sun Stroke is another term for heat stroke.
Preparedness tips before severe heat
To prepare for extreme heat, you should:
- Install window air conditioners snugly; insulate spaces around
the air condition for a tighter fit, if necessary.
- Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation.
- If you have central air conditioning, set the thermostat no
lower than 78 degrees.
- Change or clean your air-conditioning filter once a month.
- Install temporary window reflectors (for use between windows
and drapes), such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect
heat back outside.
- Weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air in.
- Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes,
shades, awnings, or louvers. (Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce
the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent.)
- Keep storm windows up all year.
What to do during severe heat and heat emergencies
- Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the
- Stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine if air conditioning
is not available.
- Consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings
such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and
other community facilities. Circulating air can cool the body
by increasing the evaporation rate of perspiration. Call 211 for
the nearest location of a cooling center.
- Use exhaust fans and dehumidifiers when needed.
- Eat light, well-balanced meals at regular intervals. Avoid using
salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
- Drink plenty of water. Individuals who have epilepsy or heart,
kidney, or liver disease, are on fluid-restricted diets, or who
have problems with fluid retention should consult a doctor before
increasing liquid intake.
- Limit intake of alcoholic beverages.
- Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes
that cover as much skin as possible.
- Protect your face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Wear
- Check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air
conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.
- Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
- Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day; use
the buddy system when working in extreme heat; and take frequent
If your home is not air-conditioned, use moving air to
try to beat the heat.
- Open all windows early in the morning to get rid of heat and
help cool the home.
- Keep the house closed during the hottest part of the day. Check
indoor and outdoor thermometers to make sure that the indoor temperature
is still cooler than outside. Later, open up the house so the
cooler night air can lower inside temperatures.
- Use floor and ceiling fans as much as possible to circulate
a cooling breeze. Also use window fans if not using air conditioning.
- Sleep in a cooler part of the residence, such as lower floors
or the basement.
- Take showers and baths early in the morning or late at night.
- Use appliances and equipment that give off heat (iron, light
bulbs, clothes dryer, hair dryer, etc.) only as needed and limit
use to the early morning or at night, not during the middle of
- Slow down and avoid physical exertion to avoid heat stress.
- Listen to radio and television for discomfort index warnings
and keep in touch with others every day.
- If the residence becomes too warm, try to be in a cooler place
during the hottest part of the day – a friend’s or
neighbor’s home, a cooling center, senior center, shopping
mall or library.
Detailed additional information can be found at the following websites:
National Weather Service – St. Louis Office
in 3 Program also provides free family safety guides to help
prepare your family and household or call (636) 456-3786 or (636)
456-7474 to order a free family safety guide. The family safety
guide is available in several languages.
Ready.gov - Extreme Heat
Ready.gov is the federal government’s best resource for
general emergency preparedness and disaster readiness information
for citizens. Learn how to prepare for extremely hot weather.
FEMA.gov - Heat
Preparedness information and strategies from the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA).