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Light clothes and lots of water: Tips to help you stay safe during this weekend's heat wave

A child runs through the fountain at the Christian Science Plaza in Boston in the summer of 2021. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A child runs through the fountain at the Christian Science Plaza in Boston in the summer of 2021. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

With record-breaking heat expected to bake the region this weekend, organizations in and around Boston are preparing to help those in need.

Boston has declared a heat emergency, and will open cooling centers around the city. (Find details here.) Many other communities are expected to do the same.

Both Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation also announced pools, spray parks and splash pads will be open to help provide relief. Click here for Boston's city-specific list, and here for DCR's locations across the state.

This weekend's forecast is not normal, according to Dr. Gaurab Basu, a health equity researcher at Cambridge Health Alliance.

"I'm concerned about it, the fact that we're having such severe heat this early in the year," he said. "It's important for us to connect the dots that climate change is making days like this more likely."


Here's some more context on the heat event from WBUR environment reporter Miriam Wasser:


Basu said extreme heat poses a range of health risks.

"The things I think about is increased risk of cardiovascular disease, increased risks of strokes, increased risk of disregulation of diabetes," he said.

Basu said people should keep hydrated and stay indoors, where it's cooler. And if you begin to feel nauseous or light-headed, seek emergency medical care.

Anyone who starts to feel dizzy or otherwise is exhibiting symptoms of heat-related illnesses should call for medical care. EMTs will be out to help evaluate and treat people throughout the weekend and beyond, according to Boston EMS Deputy Superintendent Len Shubitowski.

If signs of heat stroke and exhaustion go unheeded, things can turn very serious.

"If you don't pay attention and start to intervene, your body loses the ability or it goes beyond its capacity to stay cool," he said. "And then you stop sweating. You get warm and dry and hot. Your temperature starts to climb. Your mental status starts to change. And now you're gone from having something which is serious but not life threatening to something that is life threatening."

EMTs have to remember to take care of themselves as they go out and care for others in this heat, he said. They'll also look for cool places to stay, and supervisors will carry extra water out to teams as they respond to calls.

"You do a lot of work in a very short period of time and exert a fair amount of of energy," Shubitowski said. "And the heat can affect how you do and how long it takes you to recover."

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For people without homes, getting out of the heat can be a real challenge. Boston's Pine Street Inn will have an air conditioned lobby available 24/7 this weekend.

And for those who don't want to come indoors, Pine Street Spokesperson Barbara Trevisan said trained staff will hit the streets with sunblock and more.

"We are going to have increased outreach going out checking on people, bringing water, checking people for signs of dehydration [or] heat stroke, trying to encourage them to come in to the air conditioning but really keeping a close eye on people," she said.


To help you stay safe, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has a list of things you should do during a heat wave:

  • Take it easy: avoid "strenuous" activity outdoors.
  • Light-colored clothing helps to reflect heat. If you can, wear something lightweight and loose-fitting, too. Wide-brimmed hats are a good idea, as is using proper sunscreen — Shubitowski recommends SPF 30 or higher.
  • Unless otherwise ordered by a doctor, drink water. Lots of water, thirsty or not. And no, a cold beer or iced coffee isn't a substitute, because the alcohol and caffeine can actually accelerate dehydration.
  • Watch what you eat. You want light, "well-balanced" meals.
  • Do not leave kids or pets in a closed car. "Even with the windows cracked open, interior temperatures can rise almost 20°F within 10 minutes," according to MEMA.
  • Stay inside if you can. Keep your pets indoors, too. If that's not an option, try to go out near morning or evening, and prepare for the sun with sunscreen. Wear a hat with a wide brim if you have one.
  • No air conditioner? Let science be your friend: Heat rises, so try to take refuge in a lower floor. Fans won't drop the temperature, but the moving air will promote evaporation, making your skin feel cooler. And when in doubt, get to a public place that does have air conditioning, like a library, store, or public building.
  • Check with your city or town to see if they've opened cooling centers near you. Here's Boston's list of locations.
  • Pools and the beach are great places to cool down, but be sure you do so in a safe way. Here again is Boston's list of water features open to the public. And here's DCR's, which has statewide locations.
  • If your power goes out, find a cooling center, a friend's house or somewhere else to try and stay cool.
  • Heat stroke and other related problems can happen quickly. If you start feeling the symptoms, seek medical counseling or care, up to and including dialing 911.
  • If you're in good relative health and are able to, check in on the sick or older residents nearby, who may need a little assistance to get through the extreme heat. That's especially important if they live alone or you know they don't have air conditioning.

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