As Heat Wave Looms, Officials Offer Insight, Resources

June 18, 2024
• Temperatures could reach close to 100 degrees in Needham and the surrounding area this week.

Residents should minimize their time outdoors, stay hydrated and keep cool amid the projected extreme heat, local experts say. Tuesday through Friday will hit the mid-90s, reaching a peak on Thursday with a high near 96 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The NWS issued a heat advisory Tuesday until 7 p.m., with an excessive heat watch in place Wednesday afternoon until Friday night.

By Saturday, temperatures are expected to cool to the low 80s with a chance of rain in the forecast through the weekend.

During very hot weather, people more often call ambulances and visit the emergency room — extreme heat is “the single deadliest weather disaster that we face in this country,” said Dr. Caleb Dresser, an emergency physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Needham who teaches emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Those at heightened risk include older adults, people with medical conditions and on certain medications, people who are pregnant, small children and unhoused people, Dresser said.

“I think it’s important to recognize that hot weather, particularly the prolonged heat that we’re having this week where it goes on for several days, is really stressful on the body,” Dresser said. “It can interfere with people’s sleep. It can raise their cortisol levels. And what we see is an increase in a lot of other medical emergencies, things like heart attacks or diabetic emergencies, in patients who are living with chronic medical conditions.”

Dresser advises residents to avoid the heat and spend time in a cool, air-conditioned space. For people who need to be outside, hydration is key, Dresser said. People should also wear sunscreen and “dress for success,” which means wearing light-colored, loose clothing and a hat, he said.

People who suffer the most serious health harms during heat waves are “older adults who suffer these impacts behind closed doors,” Dresser said.

“If you are able to call your family, check on your neighbor, phone a friend, that quick check-in conversation, a quick visit could be life-saving if it helps identify somebody who is not doing well and can get them to safety,” he said.

The Rosemary Recreation Complex’s splash pad — a cooling station with sprinklers — is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. this week and is free to use. The complex’s pool, however, is closed until Saturday, when it will officially open for the season to members and remain open daily through the summer.

For those in search of a cool place during the day, the Needham Public Health Division suggested the Center at the Heights and the Needham Free Public Library, which are both open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The Charles River YMCA is also open Tuesday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and their pool is open to YMCA members.

Needham Police Deputy Chief Chris Baker shared the Public Health information in an email and encouraged residents to call for transportation to cooling center locations should they need it.

“At Risk Residents should limit outdoor activity, drink lots of water, stay in a cool place or seek one out if they don’t have access,” Baker wrote.

Extreme heat can result in two major health issues: Heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body runs out of fluids and electrolytes it needs to sweat and cool down. When someone experiences heat exhaustion, they feel faint and dizzy, may have muscle cramps and have nausea and vomiting, all while conscious and talking. In that situation, drinking fluids and electrolytes in a cool area will help, Dresser said.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency in which patients’ high internal body temperatures cause damage to the tissues in their body. Symptoms include confusion and mumbling nonsense, a rapid heartbeat, possible unconsciousness and a hot body temperature. When someone starts to behave unusually, Dresser said it’s best to call 911 for medical care, and while waiting for help, cool the patient down with ice packs or cold water.

Heat waves in Boston are historically uncommon, but they are becoming increasingly frequent and intense because of climate change, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Here in Boston, we are not used to dealing with temperatures in the high 90s,” Dresser said, “and so a 95-degree day in Boston may be more dangerous at a population level than a 95-degree day somewhere in the southern part of the U.S. that’s much more used to dealing with heat. So we need to be particularly cautious about events like the one that is going on this week.”

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation recently provided guidance on how to prepare for extreme heat, advising residents to check their vehicles’ fluid levels before leaving for trips, pack water and “never leave children or pets alone in a closed vehicle.”

In the event you or someone you know is suffering from the heat or needs transportation to a cool place, Needham residents should call Public Health at 781-455-7940 or, after hours, the Needham Police Department’s non-emergency line at 781-455-7570.

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