Summer Weather Hazards: Heat, Ozone, and UV Radiation

Summer Weather Hazards: Heat, Ozone, and UV Radiation

Lea Paul Lea Paul

Many of us look forward to summer for the opportunities to get outdoors. Too much outdoors can hurt in certain situations. Aside from stormy weather and lightning, summer weather hazards are too much ultra violet radiation from the sun, too much heat and humidity, and poor air quality.
If you don't spend a lot of time outdoors then your body is not acclimated to high heat and humidity. You need to be extra careful. People taking prescription drugs, tranquilizers and diuretics have an increased risk of heat-related illness. In extreme heat situations everyone needs to remember basic safety. The Mobile County Health Department says too much heat can lead to sunstroke, heat cramps, or heat exhaustion. Heatstroke is possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity. The elderly are more at risk for heat-related problems. MCHD has these tips for you...

Preventing heat-related injuries

Drink more fluids regardless of your activity level. Do not wait until you?re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
Do not drink liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar. They actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks because they can cause stomach cramps.
Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a shopping mall or public library. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
Electric fans may provide comfort; but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Take a cool shower or bath. Moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
Never leave children (or anyone else) or pets in a closed, parked vehicle. Beat the heat, check the back seat.
Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children need more frequent watching.

If you must be out in the heat

Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each
hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
Try to rest often in shady areas.
Protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Also, put sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say broad spectrum or UVA/UVB protection on their labels).

The heat index (sometimes called the apparent temperature, or "feels like" temperature) is a measure of the contribution that high temperature and high humidity (expressed either as relative humidity (RH) or dew point temperature) make in reducing the body's ability to cool itself. The table below estimates the heat index. The heat index (HI) is a measure of how hot it really feels when the affects of humidity are added to high temperature. Note: Exposure to full sunshine can increase HI values by up to 15 degrees F


Heat Index between 90 and 104- sunstroke, heat cramps or heat exhaustion are possible with prolonged exposure and physical activity
Heat Index between 105 and 129- sunstroke, heat cramps, or heat exhaustion is likely and heatstroke is possible
Heat Index of 130 or higher- heatstroke or sunstroke occur quickly

Check out the National Weather Service Heat Wave website for a lot more information on summer heat safety. Calculate the Heat Index using either dew point or relative humidity. Heat affects all living creatures. NOAA has much more information on heat. Find more safety rules from the Alabama Department of Health and from the campaign for Water, Rest and Shade.



Too much sun is dangerous. Summertime is when the sun is highest in the sky and the rays are most direct. This means that there is less filtering by the earth's thin atmosphere. You must take precautions against the sun's ultra-violet (UV) radiation.


UV radiation is a normal component of the sun's energy that in large quantities causes sunburns, and may eventually lead to premature wrinkling, skin cancer, or cataracts. Simple measures reduce risk. Here are some basics:

If your shadow is shorter than you are tall, UV levels will be high.
UV radiation is most intense between 10am and 3pm. Limit your exposure to direct sun during these hours.
Don't lay in the sun. When out for extended periods, wear a hat, along with light-colored, lightweight clothes that cover your arms, legs and the rest of your skin. Use sunglasses with UV protection and apply a sunblock.
Children need extra protection since their bodies are still developing and too much sun can be much more dangerous than to adults.
Lighter skin is more affected by UV radiation but all skin types require some type of protection.
UV radiation penetrates clouds and water so even on a cloudy day or while swimming, take precautions.
Shiny, smooth, or bright surfaces such as cement or sand can reflect UV radiation.
Cooler temperatures do not lower UV values. Skiers commonly are sunburned when they underestimate the sun's UV radiation reflected by snow.
As the UV index gets higher, use a sunscreen with a higher SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and spend less time in the sun.
If you notice blotches or other permanent changes to your skin, see your doctor.


UV INDEX NUMBER EXPOSURE LEVEL
0 - 2 Low. Color=green
3 - 5 Moderate. Color=yellow
6 - 7 High. Color=orange
8 - 10 Very High. Color=red
11+ Extreme. Color=violet

The EPA has a Sunwise Program which is great for educators and students who want to learn more.



Another summer hazard can be ground-level ozone.


Ozone is a form of oxygen that can be good or bad for people depending upon where it is.
Good ozone is found in the stratosphere, about 20 to 50 miles above the ground. It is a natural part of the Earth's outer shell that blocks harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun so it's important that we have it above us. In the last decade, scientists have discovered that ozone levels in the stratosphere have dipped annually to extremely low levels before recovering. It's believed that this "ozone hole" is due to various pollutants, that humans have produced, interacting with the normal formation of Ozone.

Pollution near the ground can, on the other hand, lead to ozone production and that ozone becomes pollution. Ground-level ozone is formed on sunny days with calm wind when pollutants chemically combine with oxygen. Higher ozone levels are more common in our summer but it's not because of the heat, it's more related to the amount and intensity of sun. When ozone is found at ground level it is dangerous because our bodies cannot use it and it irritates the lungs. It causes breathing problems for people with asthma and other lung conditions. The Environmental Protection Agency uses a color coded scale to let you know what the overall air quality is. Find ozone forecasts for other cities in the United States.

You may notice more ozone alerts than in the past. Part of the reason for that is deteriorating air quality but another part of that is better ozone measurement and the fact that some of the thresholds for the ozone levels were lowered slightly at the start of 2008.

Air Quality Index

Index Value Description Steps to Stay Healthy
0 - 50 Good. Color=Green. No problems.
51 - 100 Moderate. Color=Yellow. If you are unusually sensitive to air quality, consider limiting time outside.
101 - 150 Unhealthy for some. Color=Orange. Active kids and adults, especially those with breathing difficulties should limit strenuous activity outside.
151 - 200 Unhealthy. Color=Red. Everyone should limit strenuous activity outside, especially people with breathing difficulty.
Over 200 Very Unhealthy. Color=Purple. Everyone should limit strenuous activity outside. People with respiratory difficulties should stay inside.

You can help prevent pollution that creates ozone by...

Conserving electricity
Limiting your driving
Using public transportation or carpooling
Avoid using gasoline-powered lawn equipment
Refueling your vehicle only after 6pm
Minimize use of household, workshop, and garden chemicals

The Environmental Protection Agency collects a lot of information on Ozone Depletion in the upper atmosphere while you can get daily ozone readings at ground level from ADEM, Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Check NOAA's role in air quality monitoring.

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