We all know temperatures can quickly rise to dangerous levels inside of your car, but just outside of your vehicle there are serious, even deadly dangers as well, especially in the kind of intense heatwave currently settling over the American southwest.
More than 40 million Americans are sweltering under triple digit temperatures this week under an unprecedented heatwave that is worsening a drought, intensifying wildfires and seriously degrading air quality in the region, the Washington Post reports.
Now, medical professionals are sounding the alarm. Such intense heat is turning roadways, sidewalks and the surfaces of cars into vectors for serious burns, some of which could be life-threatening. From the Associated Press:
In the Southwest, the problem of burns from hot asphalt, sidewalks and even desert sand is growing as temperatures rise due to climate change and increasing urbanization.
And it shows up in emergency rooms like the one at the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix, where director Dr. Kevin Foster said 104 people were admitted in June, July and August 2020 with serious burn injuries due to contact with hot surfaces. Seven people died.
Many more received outpatient treatment.
“It doesn’t take much time to get a full thickness or third degree burn when exposed to hot pavement,” Foster said in a press briefing Thursday. “Because if you look at hot pavement or asphalt at two o’clock in the afternoon in direct sunlight, the temperature is usually somewhere around 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Seven people died of surface burns due to high heat. Holy shit! It’s not supposed to get even hotter as the summer goes on right? A hospital in Las Vegas calls summer “pavement burn season” and the injuries can be very serious. A doctor from a hospital in Phoenix told the AP that, normally, such burns require serious skin grafts in order to heal. Last summer, 30 percent of those admitted for surface burns needed to spend time in the ICU and 20 percent required a ventilator.
Folks most at risk for burning themselves on pavement or asphalt are the elderly, those with medical conditions that cause them to fall, people who are overcome by the heat and pass out as well as the intoxicated, but really, anyone can hit the hot sidewalk and come away with serious injuries. And it’s not just roads and sidewalks that are a danger to humans. The surfaces of cars can heat up just as much as the road, as well items inside the car, like seat belts and any other metal bits. Infants are most at risk of being burned inside of cars as they aren’t able to move their limbs away from hot objects.
Doctors and state officials across southern and western states are begging people to stay indoors at the height of the afternoon heat and to touch-test anything that has been sitting out in the sun too long before grabbing, like car door handles.
Speaking of seat belts: Buckle up, because summer is just getting started.