Heather N. Kolich, ANR Agent, UGA Extension Forsyth County

Our temperatures have been mild so far this summer, but that is bound to change soon. Summer heat can pose health issues for people of all ages who work or play outdoors, and for pets and livestock exposed to high heat and humidity. Summer storms can also present dangers.

Heat Stress and Stroke

Heat stress can affect people, animals, and plants. The interaction of heat and humidity creates a heat sensation beyond air temperature alone. A calculation of this interaction gives us the Heat Index – an estimate of how hot we really feel under the temperature and humidity conditions if we’re standing in the shade. For example, if the outdoor temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is 60 percent, we feel like the temperature is 91 degrees, or five degrees warmer. That’s because the high humidity reduces evaporation of our sweat, reducing the ability of our bodies to cool off. If we’re in the sun or the winds are strong and dry, the heat index is higher.

The National Weather Service Heat Index Chart show when the combination of temperature and humidity make it dangerous to work and play outdoors.

When we heat up faster than we can cool down, we’re at risk of heat stress or heat stroke, a more severe, life-threatening, heat-related illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 650 people die each year from heat-related illness. The highest fatality rate occurs among men (69%), followed by adults age 65 and older (36%). Most heat-related deaths happen between May and September. Below are the warning signs of heat stress and heat stroke and how to treat each condition.

Warning signs and treatments for heat-related illnesses.

Heat stress warning signsActions to takeHeat stroke warning signsActions to take
Heavy sweatingDrink cool water.   Seek shade or air conditioned place.   Rest.   Cool off with a cool shower, bath or moist towels applied to the skin.Body temperature over 103⁰ FahrenheitMove to shade.   Apply cool water from any available source – hose, shower, swimming pool, water bottle – to the person’s skin.   Call 911 for medical assistance.
PalenessLack of sweating
Muscle crampsRed, hot, dry skin
TirednessStrong, rapid pulse
WeaknessThrobbing headache
Nausea or vomitingNausea
FaintingLoss of consciousness

The following signs may indicate heat stress in animals:

  • Rapid or open mouth breathing
  • Excess panting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Drooling or foaming at the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Collapse or seizure

To prevent heat stress in animals, increase availability of water during summer, limit physical activity to the cooler morning and evening hours, provide shade, and increase air circulation where possible.

To monitor the heat index, download the free OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app, available for android and i-phones.

Storms and Lightning

Rain can bring welcome relief from summer heat, but Georgia storms can produce dangerous straight-line winds, lightning, and flash floods. With speeds over 58 miles per hour, straight-line winds can cause damage similar to tornadoes. Lightning is a frequent feature of thunderstorms, and if you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance for lightning. If a storm is approaching, move indoors.


We can’t control the weather, but we can monitor it. The National Weather Service stays on top of approaching storms and issues warnings. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute of Safety and Health developed a phone app to calculate heat index based on your location and current weather conditions. The free OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app is available for download for android and i-phones at https://www.osha.gov/heat/heat-app.

The best way to prevent summer weather-related injuries is to be weather-aware and take precautions when working and playing outdoors.

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