Weather and Health: Summer Colds

Dealing with a cold is annoying any time of the year. During the summer, however, when you want to be outside enjoying the beautiful weather, it is especially frustrating.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 200 different viruses can cause the common cold. The two most frequently found types are rhinoviruses and enteroviruses. While present throughout the year, the prevalence of the different viruses tends to shift with the seasons. Winter colds, generally speaking, are usually the result of rhinoviruses and summer colds tend to be the product of enteroviruses.

Most enterovirus infections, according to the National Institute of Health, occur between June and October.

While the weather does not cause colds, it does influence peoples’ behavior. In winter, when temperatures are chilly, people spend more time indoors where germs are more easily spread. During the warmer months of the year, people are outdoors more often, making summer colds less common than winter ones. Nevertheless, colds are spread the same way throughout the year – through close contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces.

Along with the usual sneezing, sniffling, and sore throat associated with a winter cold, certain strands of enteroviruses can also cause fever and gastrointestinal issues. Adding insult to injury, a summer cold also tends to linger a bit longer than a winter cold.

To help reduce your odds of getting sick, doctors recommend frequent hand washing and avoiding sick people.

Summer colds keep you indoors. Credit: mlive

Lightning: A Deadly Weather Hazard

Thunderstorms are impressive displays of the power of nature. However, they are also extremely dangerous.

On average, according to NOAA, lightning claims the lives of 27 people every year in the US and seriously injures hundreds more. To date in 2019, lightning has killed 12 people across ten states. The most recent victim was struck on Sunday in Richarton, ND. Local officials say the man was outside doing volunteer trail work at a recreation center when a storm moved through the area.

Lightning comes in a variety of forms, but the cloud to ground variety is the most threatening to people. A typical bolt carries a current of about 300 million volts and can heat the air around it to 50,000°F. That is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

This type of lightning, NOAA says, strikes the US about 25 million times a year. However, 70% of lightning fatalities occur during the summer months. The season marks not only the peak of thunderstorm activity in the United States, but also the time of year when people spend more time outdoors.

According to a NWS report on lightning deaths in the US from 2006 to 2017, the vast majority of victims were men engaged in an outdoor leisure activity. Listing a variety of different pastimes at the time they were struck, fishing topped the list as the most deadly water-related recreational activity.

To avoid becoming a statistic, follow the advice of the NWS – “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

Credit: NOAA

Summer Safety: What is a Rip Current and Why is it Dangerous?

Summer vacation season is in full swing across the US. As millions of people head to beaches to have fun and beat the heat, it is important to remember that the ocean is a dynamic environment that can pose a number of hazards for swimmers. Chief among these are rip currents.

Rip currents are fast, localized channels of water moving away from the shoreline. According to NOAA, they are a result of “complex interactions between waves, currents, water levels, and nearshore bathymetry.” They can form in several different ways on any beach with breaking waves. That said, they are typically found at breaks in sandbars and along permanent structures that extend out into the water such as jetties or piers.

Moving at speeds up to 8 feet per second – which is faster than an Olympic swimmer – rip currents can easily drag unsuspecting swimmers hundreds of yards out to sea.  While they will not pull anyone underwater, they can cause fatigue and panic. According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, rip currents are responsible for 80% of all surf zone rescues. Nationally, they cause more than one hundred deaths every year.

To spot a rip current, look for a gap in the breaking waves.  This is where the water is forcing its way back out to sea. The area also usually appears murky and darker than the surrounding water.  On guarded beaches, red flags often indicate hazardous conditions for swimmers.

If caught in a rip current, the Red Cross recommends not trying to swim against it.  Instead, they say to swim parallel to the shoreline until you are out of the current. Once free, you can start swimming back toward the beach.

For more information on beach safety, visit: http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/water-safety/beach-safety

Credit: NOAA

Extreme Heat Can Pose a Danger to Your Health

A heat emergency has been issued for New York City.  As temperatures soar, it is important to remember that intense heat can cause serious health problems.

According to the CDC, extreme heat – temperatures that are significantly hotter than the average local summertime high – is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in this country. Claiming hundreds of lives every year, excessive heat kills more people across the U.S. than hurricanes and tornadoes combined.

Extreme heat is deadly because it forces the human body beyond its capacity to cool itself. Linked to overheating and dehydration, heat-related illnesses can range in severity from mild to life-threatening.  Symptoms for each stage include:

Heat Cramps:  Painful muscle spasms in the legs and/or abdomen

Heat Exhaustion:  fatigue, weakness, clammy skin, and nausea

Heat Stroke:  rapid pulse, hot and dry skin, no sweating. This is a medical emergency

To beat the heat, the American Red Cross suggests:

  • Avoid strenuous activity
  • Dress lightly
  • Eat lightly
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Replenish salts and minerals lost through perspiration with sport-drinks
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol
  • Stay out of the sun
  • Cool off in an air-conditioned building, when possible

Credit: NWS/WRN

Weather and Health: Hot Cars Can Be Dangerous for Kids

Warm weather can pose a number of health and safety concerns, from poor air quality to being hit by lightning. One of the more deadly risks for children, however, is heatstroke when they are left in a hot car.

Since 1998, according to kidsandcars.org, there has been an average of 38 hot car deaths in the US every year. That is one every nine days. This year, there have already been 11 deaths reported and the official start of summer is still more than a week away.

Credit: USA Today

On a sunny day, the interior temperature of a parked car can increase 19°F in just ten minutes. That means if the outside air temperature is a seemingly comfortable 70°F, the inside of the car can heat up to near 90°F in a very short period. The situation is even worse when the outside temperature is higher and the car sits in the sun longer.

According to the Mayo Clinic, if the human body reaches 104°F, organ damage and death become a real risk. Children are even more vulnerable because their smaller bodies can heat up between three to five times faster than that of an adult. Most hot car victims are under the age of three.

These dangerous situations develop in a number of different ways. Children can sometimes find their own way into a car while playing outside or a guardian leaves them alone in a vehicle for what seems like a quick errand. However, the majority of hot car deaths occur when a parent or caregiver gets distracted or has a change in their daily routine and simply forgets that a child is in the back seat when they park their car.

To avoid a heartbreaking tragedy, remember to Look Before You Lock!

806 children have died in hot cars since 1998 in the US. Year to date for 2019, there have been 11. Credit: NoHeatStroke.org

Climate Change is Making Allergy Season Longer

Spring is a season of rebirth. As temperatures warm, plants awaken from winter dormancy, generate pollen, and produce beautiful blooms. For allergy sufferers, however, the season can be a double-edged sword. With climate change extending the growing season, the outlook for people with seasonal allergies is less than rosy.

Across the US, the growing season – the period between the last and first freezes of the year – has lengthened by an average of two weeks since the 1970s, according to Climate Central. That means pollen allergies are staring earlier in the spring and lasting longer into the autumn. Tree pollen comes out in the spring, grass pollen strikes in the summer, and weed pollen is prevalent in the fall.

If global warming continues unchecked, studies show the growing season, and therefore the allergy season, expanding even further.

These changes to the growing season, like other climate change impacts, vary from region to region. The largest increase has been noted in the western states, according to the National Climate Assessment. Here in NYC, the growing season has increased an average of 21 days between 1970 and 2018.

Rising temperatures, however, are not the only factor for worsening allergy conditions. The carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air that causes the atmosphere to warm also plays a more direct role. When plants, particularly ragweed, are exposed to higher levels of CO2, they produce more pollen. Therefore, as concentrations of atmospheric CO2 continue to increase, pollen production will intensify.

Weather Lingo: Wind Chill

Temperature is one of the basic elements of weather.  Our perception of it, however, is often influenced by other environmental conditions. Wind, for example, can make a cold day feel even colder. This phenomenon is called the wind chill factor.

Wind chill is a measure of the apparent or “feels-like” temperature.  It calculates the heat loss from exposed human skin through the combined effects of air temperature and wind speed.

Essentially, the wind is carrying heat away from the body and allowing the skin to be exposed to cold air.  As the winds increase, heat is carried away at a faster rate and the colder the body feels.  For example, a temperature of 20°F and a wind speed of 5mph will produce a wind chill index of 13°F.  At that same temperature, but with a wind speed of 10mph, the wind chill index would be 9°F.

Extended exposure to low wind chill values can lead to frostbite and hypothermia, serious winter health hazards.

Extremely Cold Weather Can Be A Danger to Your Health

An arctic blast is expected to sweep across the northeastern United States this week. With temperatures expected to fall into the single digits, it is important to remember that, like extreme heat, extreme cold can be very dangerous.

Extreme cold causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be generated.  Prolonged exposure, according to the CDC, can cause serious health problems, including hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia is a condition of unusually low body temperature – generally below 95°F.  It impairs brain functions, limiting a victim’s ability to think and move.  Symptoms include severe shivering, drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, and fumbling.  If left untreated, it can be fatal.

Frostbite is a localized injury to the skin and underlying tissues caused by freezing.  It can cause permanent damage and extreme cases often require amputation.  Areas of the body most often affected include the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. Signs of frostbite include, numbness, skin discoloration (white or greyish-yellow), and unusually firm or waxy feeling skin.

While the symptoms of both hypothermia and frostbite can range in severity, victims generally require immediate re-warming and professional medical attention.

To stay safe in cold weather, the American Red Cross recommends:

There is No Such Thing as Bad Weather, Only Bad Clothing Choices

There is an old Scandinavian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.” While it can be applied to any season, it seems most relevant in winter.

Since the weather is going to do whatever it is going to do, it is important to be prepared for anything that Mother Nature throws your way. In winter, that means cold temperatures.

Extreme cold causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be generated. Prolonged exposure, according to the CDC, can cause serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite.

To stay safe this winter, remember to bundle up in layers and wear hats and gloves to minimize the loss of body heat.

Credit: NOAA

The Deadly Danger of Lightning

Thunderstorms are impressive displays of the power of nature. However, they are also extremely dangerous.

On average, according to NOAA, lightning claims the lives of 47 people every year in the US and seriously injures hundreds more. To date in 2018, lightning has killed 16 people across eight states. The most recent victim was struck this Saturday at Sunken Meadows State Park on Long Island, NY. Local officials say the man was sheltering under a tree during an early evening storm.

Lightning comes in variety of forms, but the cloud to ground variety is the most threatening to people. A typical bolt carries a current of about 300 million volts and can heat the air around it to 50,000°F. That is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

This type of lightning, NOAA says, strikes the US about 25 million times a year. However, 70% of lightning fatalities occur during the summer months. The season marks not only the peak of thunderstorm activity in the US, but also the time of year when people spend more time outdoors.

Top ten activities that contributed the most to lightning deaths in the US, 2006-2017. Credit: NWS

According to a NWS report on lightning deaths in the US from 2006 to 2017, the vast majority of victims were men engaged in an outdoor leisure activity. Listing a variety of different pastimes at the time they were struck, fishing topped the list as the most deadly. It accounted for nearly 10% of the lightning fatalities during that period.

To avoid becoming a statistic, follow the advice of the NWS – “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

Credit: NWS/NOAA