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Tips for navigating extreme heat events in San Antonio during our hottest summer on record (and beyond). Please share.
Words: Greg Harman | Artwork: Carly Garza
We’re deep into our hottest summer 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 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 already this year.
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 yourself below 75°F at night—a challenge when the state grid managers are urging folks to keep their thermostats at 79 for fear of a collapsing grid during unprecedented energy demand.
* 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.
We asked our friends on Twitter their best tips and tools for staying cool. Here are a few recommendations
- Retreat to the library or sneak in some movies.
- Crash at a cooling center (locations) … Also see: VIA free bus rides.
- Unplug everything you don’t need & weatherize* (@AngelaBGarza)
- Share with others in need (in hot or cold!) (@_rootbound)
- Free weatherization for your home/rental property through the Casa Verde program (details below).
- Also: Google “DIY swamp cooler” (@Blancanieves721), a la:
Know Your Rights
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.”
2-1-1: Project Cool
Text United Way Helpline at 211 to Request (or Donate) a Box Fan*
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 is actively mapping the city to understand which areas are being impacted the most by heat island. Here is map of some of the hottest Census tracts in San Antonio, according to our preliminary research.
Keep an Eye Out
Check in on those most at risk from heat-related illness:
- Babies/Young Children
- 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.
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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