Health Day - ONLINE EDITION

End of Heat Wave on the Horizon

Temperatures expected to peak Friday, with advisories in effect for 23 states, before cold front arrives

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FRIDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) -- People living in the Midwest and Northeast will have to weather one more day of scorching temperatures and withering humidity before a massive heat wave finally moves out and cooler air moves in on Saturday, U.S. meteorologists said Friday.

The largest heat wave of the summer has parked itself over much of the United States for most of the week, with sizzling temperatures and high humidity levels making life miserable for millions.

On Thursday, every state but Alaska posted temperatures of 90 degrees or higher. Conditions are expected to peak on Friday, according to USA Today, with heat advisories and warnings in effect for 23 states, and the 141 million people living in them.

In Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia, the heat index hit 106 degrees on Thursday, the Associated Press reported. The heat index gauges what the temperature actually feels like after factoring in the humidity level.

Part of the reason the heat wave hovered in place for so long was that it initially was moving backwards, or westward, and stalled when it hit an approaching Canadian cold front, the AP reported.

Most weather systems move west to east across the United States, but this system moved in the opposite direction, Jon Gottschalck, operations chief at the National Weather Service's prediction branch, told the wire service.

"It's definitely unusual and going the wrong way," Gottschalck said Thursday. "This is pretty rare."

Until the cold front, and its accompanying severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes, arrives Saturday, health experts said there are steps everyone can take to minimize their risk from extreme heat.

One essential step: Check up on elderly or ill relatives living on their own.

"Due to various reasons, the elderly are prone to suffer from the extreme heat," said Dr. Salvatore Pardo, associate chairman of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

"It is vital for loved ones and friendly neighbors to enter the home and make sure they have functioning air conditioning or access to a cool environment -- for example, a cooling center, senior center, public shopping mall -- during extreme heat events," he said. "This should be done at the beginning, during and after the extreme heat event."

Dr. Michael Ammazzalorso, chief medical officer at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., offered other potentially lifesaving tips.

Keeping the shades drawn in the daytime can keep homes cooler, he said, and "if you live in a split-level home, stay downstairs. Heat rises, so upstairs will always be hotter than your living room. Open windows upstairs if you have no air conditioning to keep the room cool, and have a fan blowing."

Alcoholic beverages dehydrate, so stick to water or beverages without alcohol, sugar or caffeine, Ammazzalorso said. Wear light, light-colored and loose clothing to stay cooler.

"Let the children play outside in the early morning or early evening when the air quality is at a healthier level and the temperatures are cooler," he added. "Head to a local swimming pool or beach to cool off, but never swim alone and be sure to observe all posted swimming advisories."

According to Ammazzalorso, signs of heat exhaustion include skin that is cool, moist and pale but may look flushed at times. Dizziness or fainting, nausea or vomiting, fatigue and headaches are also potential signs of heat exhaustion.

Symptoms of an even more serious condition known as heat stroke include red, hot and dry skin, high body temperatures (105 degrees or above), a rapid and weak pulse, rapid and shallow breathing and changes in consciousness. In these cases, call 911 immediately, Ammazzalorso said.

More information

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has more about extreme heat.

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