By Jaime Yarbrough – Science Editor – June 5, 2021

What am I about to read? Why do I need to read it? How will it make my life better?

Good morning, afternoon, evening, class!  I know it has been a long time, but I’ll try to make up for it.  Today we will be talking about the Science of Summer and Summer Safety.

Why do we have summer (or any other season for that matter?) Back to that Earth revolving around the sun thing and the 23° tilt of the Earths’ axis in relation to the Sun. We are currently at the furthest distance in our elliptical orbit around the sun but in our exposure due to the tilt exposes the Northern hemisphere is at its greatest. Conversely when we are closest to the sun, due to the tilt it is our Winter.

Summer and Winter have other names like heat and cold. From Memorial Day to Labor Day we are entering the “101 critical days of Summer” when the most heat related injuries occur. Because of my Health and Safety training in the Air Force and much of our mission was outdoors understanding the dangers, which could often be fatal, of heat exposure was not taken lightly.

The number one precaution one can take when it gets hot, besides avoiding it by staying indoors and preferably in air conditioning is HYDRATION. And not just drinking water when you are thirsty but drinking water/fluids (preferably non-caffeinated/non-alcoholic) BEFORE you are thirsty. This is called ‘pre-hydrating.’  The body is 60-70+% water and water is one of the best substances known to ‘transfer’ heat energy. Your body uses it to create perspiration (sweat) and when water evaporates (which takes heat energy) the heat loss cools you down.

If, for whatever reason, lack of preparation or not paying attention to your fluid levels can lead to “heat stress” and “heat Stroke”, two terms you should seriously research. There are warning signs that you must be aware of (cold clammy, skin, being flushed, the absence of sweat…etc.,) which cannot be ignored.

Next, sunburn and ‘’sun poisoning” – yes there is such a thing and these two are also worthy of your attention. Understanding what sun blocks are, which ones are good, and which are not advised is important. Knowing about UVA and UVB is part of this learning curve. Limiting sun exposure at any time is a good idea. Long exposure either over minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years can ultimately cause damage to the skin and give rise to melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. It also has the side effect of causing the wrinkling of the skin.

With the better weather there will be more outdoor activities. The activities themselves, while most often FUN, carry their own dangers. Water activities invite drowning. Especially children who do not know how to swim or swim beyond their abilities. There are many areas to swim such as a pool, river, lake, and the ocean. Understanding why you should wait after eating, to avoid cramps (and drowning) is important. Knowing what lies underneath the water when diving into it, will prevent cracking your head open (usually a bad thing.) Knowing what is IN the water is, where you are swimming/surfing, also a GREAT idea…sharks, man-0-war, box jellyfish, sea snakes, water moccasins, alligators, TOXINS (which even ingesting a small amount can cause listeria or hepatitis).

Away from the water it is a great time to picnic and hike. The great outdoor of this country is one of the most wonderful experiences we have. What could go wrong?  We’ve already covered hydration and exposure so let’s talk about CRITTERS!

What critters? Snakes, mosquitos, scorpions, ticks, chiggers, fleas, ants, flies, spiders to start with. This is also a great time to “know before you go.” Learn about what you might be exposed to before you visit a new location or even one you have been to in cooler times. The heat brings out critters that are just looking to cause trouble.

Of these the most notable encounters are with poisonous snakes. Know what to do and what NOT TO DO if bitten can mean the difference between life and death. Not to be dismissed, being aware of ticks (Lyme disease) and various diseases carried by mosquitos is especially important. Malaria is mostly confined to the tropics but dengue fever, Zika virus, West Nile virus and Chikungunya virus are all out there. Bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets can ruin your day as well, especially if you are allergic.

Again, know before you go. Consult local park services, the CDC has a section that tracks several of these things, and do not forget to ‘talk to the locals.’ Some of the best information about what to look out for comes from the people who live where you are going.

So much for the environment. Summer also brings a number of ‘activities’ that don’t have things that will harm you IF you take the appropriate precautions. Driving (car, boat (always wear a life jacket even if you do know how to swim), or plane?), DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE. If there are seat belts – buckle them. Know your limitations. As with any activity, take frequent rest periods, and continue to ‘hydrate.’  Make sure you are in good health, and good physical condition to be doing or attempting to do something you have not done in months, years …OR SINCE YOU WERE A LITTLE KID. Having a physical is a good idea in the spring with a talk to your doctor about your ambitions.

We are going to finish off this segment with FIRE SAFETY.

No doubt there will be an increase of Barbecuing (BBQing). Knowing how to start a BBQ safely with the proper materials is a great idea. Campfire cooking also is wonderful if you observe the protocols of making sure it is in an area where ‘other things’ cannot catch fire, the fire is kept to the size of what you are using it for (cooking, light, ambience, ghost stories, etc…) And making absolutely certain it is always under control, and put out as Smokey says, water, stir the ashes, and stir again. Never leave a campfire unattended.  And last but of course not least, FIREWORKS. Making sure children using them are supervised, they are ‘approved’ fireworks is important (even though largely disregarded), the are used in an appropriate AREA where they will not burn down buildings or FORRESTS ! Properly disposing of spent fireworks is just the responsible thing to do.  Please don’t litter.

Oh, and one last thing: COMMUNICATIONS. Always have a way of calling for help. Cell phone, HAM radio, whistle, signal flares (if out to sea), and tell people where you are going, and when to expect you back. This will help the search party find you if you do not.

Have a great and safe Summer !

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