Here’s a video that will help you think cool thoughts. A Metro-North train going through 20 inches of snow in Branchville in January 2011.
With the temperature stuck in the high 90s and humidity making it feel in the triple digits, the heat wave of 2013 poses some real challenges for customers waiting for the MTA’s air conditioned subways, railroad trains or buses.
“Dehydration is the number one issue for New Yorkers in this heat wave,” says Benson Yeh, MD, FAAEM, acting chair of Emergency Medicine at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, noting that more than 40 people died of heat stroke during the heat wave of 2006 with another 150 deaths due to other heat-related causes. “This kind of heat is very dangerous, especially for the elderly, people with high blood pressure or heart disease, and the very young. It’s important that people who must be in hot, crowded places—like the subway during rush hour—be aware of the dangers and take precautions to protect themselves from the heat.”
Dr. Yeh offers the following tips for riding the heat wave on public transportation:
Drink the right liquids
When you get hot and sweat, your body loses sodium as well as water and may become dehydrated. That is why people need extra fluids when the temperature soars. Not only should people drink plenty of water, but though it sounds counterintuitive, it’s important to hydrate with beverages that contain sodium or electrolytes, such as Gatorade or other sports drinks. Beverages such as alcohol, soda and caffeine, which have diuretic effects, may not help and can even cause dehydration.
Take it slow
It can take as much as two weeks for people to become acclimated to excessive heat. While your body is acclimating, take it slow and remain as sedentary as possible. It’s better to be a little late then risk being overcome by heat. Don’t run for the train, and take the local instead of waiting on a hot platform for the express. If your subway car is not air conditioned, get off and move to one that is.
Know your risk
The elderly, the young, and people with heart disease, coronary artery disease or angina, and those taking diuretics or medications for high blood pressure are more prone to heat-related disorders.
Look out for warning signs
Even mild exertion–such as walking for several blocks—can cause heat-related symptoms, such as cramping, for people who are not used to exercise in hot weather. If cramps are severe, move into a cool environment and drink liquids. If the pain persists, go to the ER.
It’s so hot you can pass out
Excess heat can cause a condition called Heat Syncope—literally, fainting because of overheating. That is when not enough blood flows to the brain and causes people to pass out. This is not an uncommon condition for people standing still in crowded, enclosed areas such as hot subway stations. Prevent it by moving around even when space is limited; if you’re sitting, stand up slowly.
It generally takes two or three days of a heat wave before we start seeing fatalities and hyperthermia—when the body which is normally 98 degrees reaches over 105 degrees or higher. Be aware of symptoms such as erratic behavior or heat exhaustion that will cause blood pressure to drop and heart rates to increase.
Heat waves are not the time to dress in New York black. Wear white or light colors to stay cooler. If you know you’ll be riding the subway and, possibly, standing on a hot platform, carry something to drink, and consider carrying a small battery-powered hand-held fan or a spray bottle filled with water to use if the heat becomes unbearable.
The heat can make everyone cranky, especially people who are waiting for subways on hot platforms or packed tighter like sardines during rush hour. This is a great time to be kind by giving a seat to someone elderly, pregnant or someone who is having trouble coping with the heat.