Las Vegas is getting hotter and hotter. Here's how to survive its brutal summers
Las Vegas is getting hotter. It’s felt 117 degree heat three times in the last ten years.
Most of us survive by jumping from home to car to work; then reversing it at the end of the day. All of it air conditioned.
But there has got to be a way to do more during the summer—maybe outside; maybe inside—but something more than simply waiting out these three or four months until the temperature gets into the low-90s again.
How do you do it? Do we have to convince ourselves, maybe through hypnosis, that summer isn’t that bad? Or are there ways to really enjoy it?
And when we say “surviving the summer heat,” we aren’t using those words lightly. In the last two years, more than 300 people have died in the heat of Las Vegas during the summer. People also get severely burned.
The physiology of the entire body is affected by extreme heat. Our cells need water to survive.
Stay well-hydrated and covered up
Dr. Carmen Flores, a burn surgeon at University Medical Center said early on, after a certain number of hours in the heat between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., one can experience fatigue, lightheadedness or have headaches. As it progresses, it turns into nausea and vomiting.
The extreme of it is hyperthermia, or heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Flores said that’s when organs can become affected.
“A lot of our population that we're seeing now in our burn center are affected by heat exhaustion and heat stroke, they come in altered, meaning they cannot communicate with us well because their brain is in sort of a shock because of the extreme heat,” she said.
Many of these patients are elderly. Flores sees patients with comorbidities, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
“Right now, we're experiencing a lot of diabetic neuropathy. Our patients’ nerves are affected by high blood sugars and so they can't really feel their feet or their hands, and so a lot of our elderly population walk outside without shoes, after a certain point in time, with extreme heat, they can incur burns on their feet,” she said.
Can you get sunburned enough to require surgery?
Flores said yes, depending on the amount of time of exposure. A prolonged exposure can “easily” progress to a second-degree burn, deep second-degree or even a third-degree burn.
When someone experiences a second-degree burn, she encourages them to come in. At first, the burned skin will blister within a few hours and will sting. Sometimes skin grafts are necessary with deeper burns to encourage growth of healthy tissue, she said.
Is sunscreen enough?
“It has to be reapplied about every two to three hours,” she said. Adults need at least 15 SPF when exposed to sun, and babies need at least 30.
Apply sunscreen every day, even on cloudy days.
She also recommended wearing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and long sleeve, cotton shirts of a darker color. Why the darker color? She said we’re trying to protect against two types of UV rays, and darker colors dissipate the heat a little better than reflective clothing.
How much water should you drink?
Staying hydrated is also important. Her team encourages drinking at least half their weight in ounces of water per day. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs., drink 75 ounces of water.
"Living in the desert and understanding the kind of physiology that heat changes, we are advocating half of your weight in ounces of water, which can be difficult. It can be a gallon or more,” she said. “But that’s what our cells need to survive, and especially in the desert climates of the Southwest.”
Flores said there are three main electrolyte losses with sweat: magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Drinks like Pedialyte and Gatorade can help replace them. More advanced electrolyte loss can result in muscle cramping, nausea and vomiting.
What to know about your A/C
Kyle Roerink, the executive director for the Great Basin Water Network, called in with a tip of, well, what not to do: Voluntarily avoid the A/C.
He said he was testing himself one summer when he moved to Las Vegas. He made it until August when he experienced a painful heat rash.
“I think the moral of the story is don’t try and go without A/C because it’s absolutely miserable,” he said.
And on the topic of air conditioners, HVAC instructor Joey Armijo from College of Southern Nevada joined us to share some tips.
He said poor or no maintenance is the top issue A/C units experience in Las Vegas. You should have your unit serviced annually by a licensed contractor, but he recommends twice a year.
Is there anything you can do to maintain your A/C?
“Especially if the unit is on the ground, make sure there's no litter or dirt or clutter around it,” he said. “Also, the main other thing is to change out your filter regularly.”
Units are expected to last between seven and 15 years, depending on how it’s installed.
A few listeners also called in with tips:
Seena recommended adding supplements to your water, like electrolyte powder or lemon juice and cucumber.
Donnie has lived in Las Vegas for 40 years. She said she opens all of her windows before the sunrise to let fresh air in and give the A/C a break. She said to add a banana or two to your regular diet. And when summer starts, she starts a countdown to get through summer.
Only 69 days until Sept. 15, she said.
Mary from Las Vegas said pay attention to another set of fluids – the ones in your car.
“You don’t realize how much of your fluids that you’ve used throughout the year, and how your fluids have dissipated or need to be replaced or replenished,” she said.
Combating the heat island effect
Recent studies have found that nearly 100-year-old policies created heat islands in lower-income areas. Areas of downtown Las Vegas are considered heat islands, which means more A/C use and more A/C breakdowns.
Kenadie Cobbin-Richardson is a diversity consultant and the former executive director of Nevada Partners, which advocates for downtown’s Historic Westside and the people there.
A big piece of it is the lack of green spaces or shading.
“That's why even the the Historic Westside is really trying to redesign, so that there are more green spaces, and more trees to help with that poisonous gas of carbon dioxide, move that through so that it's not as hot, because global warming disproportionately harms people of color, and certainly those who are poor,” she said.
With higher cooling bills, the summer can be a financial nightmare for some.
But there is a lot of help available.
North Las Vegas and Las Vegas have energy assistance programs available for low-income residents. RTC has a low-income program for reimbursement. There are also low-income summer camps for those needing childcare. For anyone who needs food assistance, she recommended calling the SNAP hotline, 800-992-0900.
“The public libraries do have the internet, so if you're a low-income family and you're out there listening, the libraries will have information and connections if you weren't able to catch all of them here, so that you can get the help you need on rent, utilities, food and gas,” she said.
Cool down, so to speak
Emotionally, the heat can keep many of us on edge. Road rage is something you may notice more during the summer, for example. Professor Kevin D. Mitchell leads the communications department at CSN and spoke with us about this.
“I want everyone to be safe,” he said about road rage situations. “And so if not engaging helps to reduce and make me more safe, then that might be the first suggestion. It is admitting you know that you did not see them, or trying to appear friendly. Some people are just driven by their emotions compounded by the heat, and it's very difficult to have a reasonable discussion with them.”
There are things you can do to keep yourself calm: “Some meditation that helps relax before you go into these confrontational situations … I do a lot of breathing … do that pause before reacting.”
Joey Armijo, HVAC instructor, College Of Southern Nevada's Western Center; Carmen Flores, burn surgeon, University Medical Center Lions Care Burn Center; Kevin D. Mitchell, chair of communications, CSN; Kenadie Cobbin-Richardson, diversity consultant, former executive director, Nevada Partners