Extreme Heat Survival Guide: A (Bilingual) Deceleration Resource Project

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Tips for navigating extreme heat events in San Antonio and beyond.

Words: Greg Harman | Artwork: Carly Garza

We’re deep into one of our hottest summers on record and forecasts point to decades of rising heat far into our future—or at least until we stop filling the sky with heat-trapping greenhouse gasses released by burning fossil fuels and ripping out forests. It’s been unbearably hot during the day and increasingly hard to cool down at night, compounding threats to our health. To survive and to thrive it’s imperative we transition to cleaner energy sources to slow and reverse this dangerous warming trend, launch city-wide weatherization programs to keep at-risk families safe from extreme weather, and plant more trees to clean the air and cool our city—especially across inner-city low-income neighborhoods where the temps can be 10 degrees hotter (or more) than those on the city’s leafier more affluent suburban fringe. Deceleration organized this info guide to help our community stay healthy in the reality of rising heat, consulting local, state, and federal resources. We also reached out to our Twitter followers for tips that may not show up on government how-to’s; many of those who responded with ideas are included on this page. We’ll be updating this page in the weeks and months ahead. If it is useful, please share this information widely.

The need for this information is clear, as captured in the (almost-certainly-an-undercount) record-breaking number of heat-illness cases collected by San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District in 2022.

Data via San Antonio Department of Metropolitan Health.

Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke?

Extreme heat can result in a range of health impacts, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, hyperthermia, and death. San Antonio Metro Health is reporting the most cases of heat exhaustion and heat stroke on record. Keep in mind: When the heat index (temperature + humidity) meets or tops 103°F, such impacts become more likely—especially if you are outside for long stretches of time or doing physical labor in the sun. For the young and old, as well as those at increased health risk for other reasons, the World Health Organization says it is best to cool your living space below 75°F at night—a challenge when the state grid managers are urging folks to keep their thermostats at 79°F for fear of a collapsing electric grid during a time of unprecedented energy demand. 

Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke? For more info, see this graph from the US Centers for Disease Control.

Drink Water

Water is life.

* If you’ve been sweating heavily, consider adding a pinch of salt to your water w/ honey or agave nectar and lemon or lime to add lost electrolytes. Here’s a DIY electrolyte drink recipe, one of many available online. And, no. Your salt does not need to come from Tibet. And, actually, a tall rusa would probably do the trick here, too.

Dress Sun Smart

Sundress optional. But you get the idea.

Community Recommendations

Tips from some of San Anto’s best.

We asked our friends on Twitter their best tips and tools for staying cool. Here are a few recommendations

Other Recommendations

Know Your Rights

Check the OSHA Employer Heat Illness Prevention Checklist for details.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into a law the so-called “Death Star” bill that limits the ability of local governments to regulate across a range of sectors (unless specifically granted that right by the Texas Legislature). It goes into effect on Sept. 1, 2023. Legal challenges are likely. The potential here is to force a rollback on Houston’s worker protections, heat protections in Austin and Dallas, and casts into doubt San Antonio’s halting efforts to protect workers from heat stress.

While the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has refused to pass a national heat standard for decades, it holds that current federal rules should protect workers and directs employers and employees to consult their heat illness prevention checklist.

Under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” The courts have interpreted OSHA’s general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard. This includes heat-related hazards that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm.

President Biden’s Inter-Agency Effort to Protect Communities from Extreme Heat

President Biden’s call for a coordinated federal response to extreme heat is a space to watch as a new trend in cities emerges—the appointment of dedicated “heat officers.” It is already well understood that low-income and communities of color bear a disproportionate share of the risk from extreme heat and other environmental factors. Fixing this long-standing reality will require significant work in the months and years ahead. Read: “Climate Change and Social Vulnerability in the United States.”

Washington, Minnesota, and California have OSHA-approved rules that set specific heat standards (Cali, for example, kicks in extra protections at 80 degrees.)

2-1-1: Project Cool

Text United Way Helpline at 211 to Request (or Donate) a Box Fan*

* Free to those 60 years or older

Heat Island Effect

Highly developed areas with few trees and lots of concrete can be more than 10 degrees hotter than leafier, hillier sides of town. Like other cities, San Antonio is experimenting with more reflective asphalt and white roofs (apply to city program here) to try to dampen the impact.

Deceleration mapped heat island impact for Bexar County by Census Tract in 2022. We found that more than half of the hottest Census tracts are in District 8 and District 1

According to nighttime satellite images of the largest US cities, these are the hottest zones in San Antonio.

(See: “San Antonio’s Hottest Neighborhoods—Literally“)

Keep an Eye Out

Check in on those most at risk from heat-related illness:

  • Babies/Young Children
  • Elders
  • People who live alone
  • People with disability, disease, or medicated for mental illness*
  • Houseless people (more below)

* Some mental illness medications impact the ability of the body to cool itself. Medications list here.

Help for the Unhoused

Among those most at risk from extreme heat are members of the unhoused community. The following groups do direct assistance, including medical intervention, in some cases. Top requests from our unhoused neighbors (after cold water) are ​for small portable coolers, battery operated fans with batteries, and cooling rags, according to Yanawana Herbolarios. You can donate cash or items—or request assistance—from:

* For help with housing placement, you must register with the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). This can be done through San Antonio’s Department of Human Services, Haven for Hope, or Christian Assistance Ministry, among others.

Deadly Bacteria

The State of Texas does not close rivers or put up signs to warn you about this, but understand that when the river flow is low, the bacteria count in the water is almost certainly high. That includes brain-eating amoebas known as Naegleria fowleri. Infections are fatal in 97 percent in these cases. The bacterium enters through the nose. Wear a noise plug. Try not to stir up the sediment where they live. Or better: Do not dunk your head underwater at all.

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