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It’s hot, hot, hot in Utah. Here’s how to stay safe

Extreme Heat warning sign informs tourists of the dangers of heat exhaustion from hiking in the desert climate.
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The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning in southern Utah this Labor Day weekend.

It’s been the hottest summer on record in Salt Lake City, and as of Sep. 2, there have been a record-breaking 29 days where temperatures reached or surpassed 100 degrees. The hot weather is expected to continue across Utah this Labor Day weekend.

“The previous record was 21 [days at or above 100 degrees in SLC],” said National Weather Service meteorologist Sam Webber. “So we've already exceeded it, and we're definitely going to be tacking on another, oh, probably at least five days.”

The National Weather Service issued a heat warning for much of the Wasatch Front and western Utah over Labor Day weekend. Temperatures could reach 104 degrees in those areas.

Hydration is important for hot stretches like this, but something else people tend to forget about is protecting themselves from the sun. Wing Province, the senior medical director for emergency medicine and trauma for Intermountain Healthcare, said sunscreen isn’t just something you should be thinking about when you’re at the pool.

“The more sunny days we have, we just have to be more cautious and careful,” said Province. “Especially once it's September and people may not be thinking of September as a hot month.”

Parts of southern Utah have an excessive heat warning in effect through Monday night. Temperatures near St. George could soar to 110 degrees. Though hot temperatures are common in the area, it is unusual for this time of year, according to Southwest Utah Public Health Department spokesperson David Heaton.

Heaton said transplants, visitors and even those familiar with the area may underestimate how the heat will impact them. People very young and very old are especially susceptible to the heat and should try to stay indoors, he said.

“People will say go hiking or do something along those lines recreationally, sometimes forgetting that we need to take frequent breaks in the shade, drink lots of water,” Heaton said. “Even if we don't necessarily feel exhausted or thirsty, heat exhaustion — and it's in its worst form, heat stroke — can kind of sneak up on people.”

It’s still possible to have a good time outdoors over the weekend — just be prepared, said Province.

“I think [people] shouldn't be afraid to go out,” he said. “I think that there is strength in numbers, so when you go out and have fun, make sure you're not alone. Make sure you are preparing for being away from home or civilization, perhaps longer than you're used to, and be prepared for whatever may come around the corner.”

Here are tips from Heaton, Province and Webber on how to stay safe in the heat:

  1. Avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day, typically between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. If you are outside at that time, Province recommends doing something in water to keep your body cool.
  2. If you don’t have adequate indoor cooling, there are cool zones in Salt Lake County. Heaton also suggests finding relief at places like malls or libraries.
  3. Drink plenty of water, plus drinks with electrolytes. Heaton said when people are out recreating, alcohol may be the drink of choice but that doesn’t help you stay hydrated.
  4. Wear light clothing. That way, Webber said, you won’t just absorb the heat from the sun.
  5. Don’t forget sunscreen! If you’re in the sun for more than 20 minutes, Heaton recommends lathering up with something with good SPF. 
  6. Seek frequent shade.
  7. Keep an eye on older and younger people, since they’re more likely to get heat exhaustion, Province said.
  8. Don’t recreate alone. You can watch out for others in your group for signs of heat exhaustion or stroke. Province said symptoms include not sweating, skin that’s dry and hot to the touch, muscle cramps, feeling light headed, a rapid pulse and confusion. If you or someone you are with is experiencing these symptoms, Province said get to a shaded location and either cool off with water or ice. If body temperatures are higher than 103 degrees, medical attention may be necessary.
Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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