Modesto Heat Waves: Their Unique Impact & How To Protect Your Family


The Modesto Central Valley Area isn’t a place that you’d think of as “humid.” In fact, it’s known for being pretty dry. But when heat waves hit the valley, the “relative” humidity to other locations goes out the window, and becomes a serious consideration. Heat waves are rapidly becoming a growing threat to human health. As heat waves continue to slam cities all over the world and as concerns about increases in global climate continue to mount, it’s important to be aware and educated.

More people in the United States have died from heat than from floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and lightning – combined.

In this article, we’re going to discuss heat waves, how they specifically affect us here in the Modesto Central Valley area, how humidity affects temperature, the importance of preparing for conditions of excessive heat, what symptoms to watch out for, and practical steps to take to deal with it.

During the 90’s many people died during a heat wave in Chicago, many of whom succumbed to excessive heat overnight – not during the day. That’s because during the night, while you sleep, your body doesn’t have time to recover from heat, making nighttime temperatures actually more dangerous than daytime temperatures.

In terms of location, cities are the most dangerous places to be during a heat wave, as opposed to being in more rural areas due to structures such as buildings, asphalt, concrete etc, contributing to significant localized temperatures and naturally holding heat even more than in open spaces.

About Forecasts and Temperatures

It might be tempting to assess the danger of excessive heat or heat waves by looking at the temperatures on an app or by watching the news forecasts. But temperature only tells a part of the story. Humidity also has a huge part to play in the equation as well, because of the way the human body works to achieve cooling. When the body sweats, it naturally attempts to cool itself down. However, when humidity is high, the body sweats less, which actually increases body temperature.

So, for instance, if the temperature is 97 degrees, but the humidity is 70%, it will feel as if it is actually 105 degrees. That is the danger of not understanding the heat index. Here is a chart from NOAA explaining this.


Here in the Modesto area, for example, July is the least humid month, while December is the most humid. The average humidity in Modesto however is 66%. That means that, on average, considering the levels of humidity in Modesto, the heat index would make a 96 degree day feel like 121 degrees!

Another thing not many people may be aware of, is that when temperatures are listed on forecasts and weather sites, that number listed only reflects the temperature in the shade – not while in direct sun.

One of the biggest misconceptions about the dangers of being too hot is that the main concern is dehydration. That’s actually not true. While dehydration definitely contributes to the problem, the main concern is actually having the body temperature rise to a point which the body isn’t able to cool down from quickly enough. If that happens, several very serious issues can arise, such as heat stroke, brain damage, organ failure, and even death.

The first stage of being in danger from excessive heat is called heat exhaustion. Exhaustion will feel uncomfortable, and the person may feel dizzy or like they need to sit down or rest. They might feel a bit damp to the touch, but their head may actually be warm or hot as the body tries to cool itself down. The best thing to do is to find shade, air conditioning, and drink water or a drink with electrolytes. If you feel the urge to rest or sit, or feel dizzy at all, it’s important to listen to your body and not try to “push through it,” as the next phase is actually a heat stroke.

With a heat stroke, the body feels very dry and warm to the touch. With heat stroke,m the body’s core temperature is in excess of 103 degrees. At this point, confusion, slurred speech and other mental and cognitive changes might be evident. The person might not be able to stand on their own, walk straight, or even drink liquids, and they may collapse. Drinking liquids at this stage actually doesn’t help the situation, and is a legitimate medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. It might be tempting to douse the person with water, but this is actually a bad idea, since this can make blood vessels clamp down, slowing the body’s cooling process even further.

So, what can we do to battle heat waves and excessive heat to stay healthy?

1. Get To Air Conditioning Immediately

The first thing to do is to find a cool, comfortable air-conditioned environment indoors. The shade, combined with air-conditioned environment provides a great space in which the body can adapt and cool off. This is why it’s so important to make sure that your AC is tuned up and staying cool. The absolute worst thing in the world is having a family member come stumbling in the door from mowing the lawn on an excessively hot Saturday afternoon trying to find comfort indoors, and the air conditioning isn’t working, thus not allowing the body temperature to drop. AC Tune Up’s are important as a preventative measure that every single family home should take, to ensure good health throughout the summer.

2. Avoid Exertion

When the body exerts energy, the body’s temperature increases. So doing any strenuous activities outside on an excessively hot day is really a bad idea. It might be tempting to take advantage of a hot Summer Saturday afternoon to get yard work done such as gardening, mowing the lawn, or washing the car, but these activities should all be done just a little bit later on in the early evening when temperatures drop and thus provide less opportunity to negative affect the body.

3. Wear Light Clothing and Proper Materials

Just like artificial grass can make front yards significantly hotter, so can certain types of artificial clothing materials and dark colors. Make sure that on days of excessive heat, you wear lighter colors and lighter, breathable clothing, such as light colored cotton clothing. This will not only retain less heat than darker synthetic clothing materials, but it will also allow the body to breathe and sweat, which all prevents heat exhaustion and enables efficient cooling.

4. Wear Aluminum Free Deodorants

Many people may not realize that while aluminum containing antiperspirants are great for preventing the body from sweating during an outing like a date night, they’re a terrible idea for helping the body cool off during the day, thus raising body temperature. Deodorants, unlike anti-perspirants, actually allow the body to sweat, which keeps the body’s cooling mechanism online and functional. If you’re around the house and have some light work to do, aluminum free deodorants are the better option.

5. Drink Plenty of Fluids

While it is true that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, even if you drink too much water, staying hydrated is an incredibly important part of preventing symptoms of excessive heat, such as heat strokes, exhaustion or worse. It’s also a good idea to drink fluids with electrolytes such as Gatorade or other similar sports drinks.

6. Understand and Watch for Symptoms

By understanding the symptoms we’ve listed above in this article, you’re empowering yourself to not only prevent medical emergencies for yourself, but for loved ones also. If you feel yourself getting dizzy, tired, confused, or even uncomfortable in any way while working outside in the heat, it’s important to pay attention and listen to your body.

7. Watch Out For Others

At Wally Falke’s, our first priority is to be a good neighbor to our Turlock and Modesto community. We want our community to be healthy, happy and vibrant, which is one of the reasons why we take the time to write these articles. But being there for our community is something we all should do, and that starts with watching out for others who might be in danger of developing symptoms, too. If you notice neighbors especially if they’re older, doing too much outside in the heat, offer them some water or ask them if they feel like maybe they should take a break.

Hopefully this gives you some information about the very real dangers of heat waves, and can help you prepare for the heat waves sure to crash down on the Modesto Central Valley over this Summer.



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