AZ Summer Survival - 10 Common Sense Tips to Summer in the Desert

June 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The summer heat is upon us once again, and while it marks the beginning of Senior Portrait and Wedding season in other parts of the country, not so much here in AZ.  Why?  Well, If you're new to our great state you'll learn fairly quickly, if you're a native however, the answer is quite obvious.  But to illustrate the point, I'll share the experience of a friend of mine that moved to Tucson from Minneapolis.  This friend was brainstorming ideas for a good business that he could make a small investment in and run on his own.  He'd experienced the mild Arizona winter and we were getting into the spring months when he told me his grand plan.

"I want to buy an ice-cream truck." he told me.  

6D_Practice-092Playground Fun?The surface of playground equipment can reach 160° F on a typical summer day! "I can make a killing, who doesn't love ice cream? There are a couple of parks near my home, I was thinking that I'd just set up shop there during the summer.  What do you think, would there be too much competition?" he asked. 

"It's not the competition so much as the clientele you should be worried about," I answered.  

"You know how you have those hamster tunnels running from one building to the next back home- the ones you guys use to keep from freezing to death? Well, let's just say, our version of that is to stay inside!" 

"That can't be true," he interrupted, "kids will always want to play in the park on the playgrounds no matter what! The playgrounds were full of them just last weekend!"  

"True enough," I answered, "but there is a huge difference between March and July in Arizona."

I felt bad for throwing cold water on his idea, but he found out first-hand that summer is why Arizona kids don't spend time on the playground.  With the latest forecast calling for a high of 115°F by the weekend, there's no better time to talk about the heat.   So with that, here are my top 10 common sense tips to survive summer in Tucson.

10.  Avoid playground equipment!

While the slides and jungle gyms are oh so fun during the rest of the year, they can cause second degree burns during a hot summer day.  Uncovered playground equipment reaches temperatures of close to 160° F - the temperature at which you can fry an egg! Similarly, don't walk on a sidewalk with bare feet and if you've got pets, remember that they don't wear shoes - if the hot asphalt can burn your feet, it will burn theirs as well.  Remember, Arizona gets enough heat to fry an egg on the sidewalk, think of what it will do to you or your pet's feet!

9. Stay indoors!

FYF_Triathalon-148Cool in the Pool!A dip in the pool is a good way to stay cool in the AZ heat, just don't forget the sunscreen!

As much as possible, just avoid being outside.  Stay indoors where it's air-conditioned.  If the AC goes out or if you don't have any, stay in the lowest room in the house away from the sun - better yet, go to the mall or public library, or find a cool swimming pool someplace where you can get out of the heat.  What about watching a movie?

8. Know the safe and danger hours

The heat sticks around in the desert, so the word "safe" is relative.  But if you want to get stuff done outdoors, or if you insist on taking a jog around the neighborhood, then do it early.  The coolest hours are generally between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.  Conversely, it is important to that if you're going to be active between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. be sure to take additional precautions as this is the time when the heat is at it's worst. 

7. Dress appropriately

Wear lightweight clothing that breathes and avoid dark colors which tend to absorb the heat.  Consider natural fibers like cotton and avoid fabrics that retain the heat (don't wear your under armor gear for your summer runs).  Wear a wide brimmed hat like a cowboy hat or a golfing hat - even an Indiana Jones style safari hat will help, or for the ladies a nice sun hat - something that will keep the sun off of your face and neck.

6. Wear sunscreen lotion

Sunblock is serious business in the desert.  Aside from saving you from a very painful burn, sunblock is important to keeping your skin from aging prematurely and can even prevent you from getting a deadly skin cancer.  Because of the intensity of the Arizona sun, choose a product that has at least an SPF of 30, but the higher the better.  Also, choose one that is labeled as a "broad spectrum" sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB light.  Look for something that is zinc and titanium based, as they tend to be better for your skin.

The heat in AZ will cause two things to happen that you must consider when using sunscreen.  1) You will be enticed to take a jump in the pool and 2) You will sweat profusely.  These two things are very bad for sunscreen, so be sure that you are reapplying sunscreen often (about every 45 minutes - 1 hour) depending on how much you're sweating/swimming.

5. Eat small meals often

When it's hot out, your body wants to keep that heat in your extremities where it can be cooled by the sweat that's evaporating off your skin.  When you have a big meal, your body shunts blood to your intestines in order to digest the food and collect the nutrients to send to the body thereby interrupting that natural coping mechanism.  To avoid problems eat small meals more often.

4. Avoid these foods and drinks

Avoid eating foods that are high in protein, and avoid beverages with alcohol or caffeine as they exacerbate the effects of heat on the body. 

3. Learn the different signs and symptoms of heat illness

Heat illness comes on in stages; it's important to recognize it early to avoid full-on heat stroke, which claims the life of around 50-60 Arizonans every year.  

Review the following information put out by the Arizona Department of Health Services:

Heat Cramps
Muscle spasms or cramps are an early warning sign of heat illness. Immediately get to a cooler place and rest. Lightly stretch the affected muscle. Drink 1/2 a glass of water every 15 minutes.

Heat Exhaustion
Sweating heavily, headache, upset stomach or vomiting, and dizziness are all signs of heat exhaustion. Cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin (turns red) are also signs of heat exhaustion.  Heat exhaustion can become heat stroke.  Immediately get to a cooler place and rest. If symptoms worsen, get help immediately. Drink 1/2 a glass of water every 15 minutes.

Heat Stroke
Hot/red skin, dizziness, confusion, rapid weak pulse and rapid shallow breathing are signs of heat stroke. If a person was sweating from activity, skin may be wet; otherwise, it will be dry. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number. Immerse in a cold bath or wrap with wet sheets and turn on air conditioning and a fan. Watch for breathing problems. If you are helping someone and they refuse to drink water or are throwing up, don’t give them anything to eat or drink.

2. Never ever do this!

Never leave a child or a pet in a car - ever! Not even for "a couple of minutes".  The outside heat is transferred to the inside of the car via the windows, but that heat transfer is one-way only, as the heat is not able to be released.  This means that the temperature inside the vehicle can reach about 50 degrees hotter than outside the vehicle.  So, on even a "mild" Arizona day of 85°F, the interior temperature is around 135°F! Think "cracking" the window open will help?  Well it will - only by about two or three degrees.  


Drink plenty of water and drink it often!  Even if you don't feel thirsty, your body is losing water.  You'll notice most Arizona natives walk around with a big water bottle filled with water- there is a reason for that!  It is the law in AZ that a business must provide water, free-of-charge to anyone who asks, and  there is a reason for that too!  If you're going to be active during the "danger hours" of 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., water becomes even more important; during that time you should be drinking a quart of water every hour. 

The Desert heat can be deadly, but if you are careful, you can learn to enjoy the Arizona summer - especially the amazing summer nights we experience! We here at wish you a very fun and adventurous summer.  Stay cool, and stay safe!


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