Weather patterns in the mid-Atlantic frequently result in extended periods of extremely high temperatures during the summer months.
Health experts agree that the combination of high temperatures, humidity and poor air quality constitute a threat, especially to certain groups of people: children, the elderly and those with respiratory or other health problems.
Heat-related illnesses range from minor problems, such as heat stress and heat cramps, to serious illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion often occurs after several days of high temperatures during which the patient loses water and salt through perspiration. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, fatigue and nausea.
Heat stroke, the most dangerous heat-related illness, can be fatal. It occurs when body temperature rises above 105 degrees. The patient initially feels lethargic, then often becomes confused and eventually loses consciousness.
If you or someone you know begins to experience symptoms of heat-related illness, seek shelter in a cool place. Drink water and use a cool, damp cloth on the face, arms and neck. Seek medical help if the symptoms persist.
During periods of extended, extreme heat, Baltimore County may open three senior centers as cooling centers. The Office of Emergency Management recommends that the cooling centers open when for two consecutive days the heat index has been 105 degrees or more for three or more hours during the day and when the heat index is 80 degrees or more at night, and when forecasters predict a third consecutive day of the same heat index.
During intense heat waves, health experts recommend the following precautions:
- Stay inside or in shaded areas.
- Use air conditioning, if your home has it. If it does not, use fans where possible, keep windows shaded and stay on the lowest level because heat rises.
- Visit a place that is air conditioned: a movie theater, a mall, the home of a friend or relative who has air conditioning.
- Avoid cooking.
- Eat cold or prepared foods. Operating a stove causes a house to heat dramatically.
- Drink plenty of water or non-alcoholic beverages.
- Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat.
- Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going out into the sun; use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
The Heat Index
The Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management considers the County in a period of possible heat emergency when the National Weather Service forecasts a Heat Index (a combination of air temperature and relative humidity) exceeding 110 degrees for three consecutive days.
When the heat index exceeds 105 degrees for two consecutive days and is expected to continue, the Office of Emergency Management will begin a heat watch. Public information officers will release information encouraging citizens to take protective actions.
When the heat index exceeds 105 degrees for four consecutive days and is forecast to continue, emergency planners will begin a heat warning. During a heat warning, county officials and public information officers will pursue an aggressive media campaign to alert the public to the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The departments of Aging, Health and Social Services will be asked to identify vulnerable populations.
The heat watch or warning may be aggravated by the air quality. The Maryland Department of the Environment issues ozone forecasts consisting of Code Green, Code Yellow, Code Orange and Code Red:
- Code Red: Air quality is unhealthy. Temperatures are in the 90 to 100 degree range, with hazy humid stagnant air. Those individuals with heart and respiratory ailments should limit outdoor activity. All others should reduce strenuous outdoor exercise. Follow recommended actions for other codes as much as possible.
- Code Orange: Air quality is approaching unhealthy. Temperatures are in the upper 80s to 90s with light winds. Refuel cars after dusk limit driving; share a ride or drive your newest, best-maintained vehicle; avoid mowing lawns with gas-powered mowers.
- Code Yellow: Air quality is moderate. Temperatures are mild in the upper 70s and 80s with winds under 15 knots. Consolidate trips to reduce vehicle usage; limit car idling; carpool or use mass transit.
- Code Green: Air quality is good. Temperatures are cool, with wind and rain typical of passing cold fronts.
Emergency Operations Procedures
The Baltimore County Emergency Operations Plan establishes general procedures specific to response and recovery operations during an extreme heat emergency.