At least 17 Tarrant County residents died from heat-related illnesses this summer — a rise from the 12 deaths reported last month.
Of the people who died since June, the most frequently observed category was heat exhaustion, accounting for 45% of all cases this year, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner.
“Heat-related illnesses and deaths should be preventable,” Dr. Kari Northeim, assistant professor in UNT Health Science Center’s School of Public Health, said. “Unfortunately, it’s hard to escape. It is the reality that we are all living in.”
Still, the number of heat-related deaths by the end of September weren’t as high as what the region experienced last year.
By the end of September 2022, there were 18 confirmed deaths caused by heat-related illnesses — the highest number recorded in Tarrant County in a decade.
Now, as temps cool, health experts are advising residents to start thinking about safety measures for summer 2024.
A breakdown of summer 2023
In Fort Worth, the National Weather Service charted the average temperature throughout the summer. Through Sept. 11, Fort Worth’s average temperature was 88.7 degrees.
With that average temperature, summer 2023 marked the third-hottest summer on record in Fort Worth, only falling behind 2011 and 1980.
What are the hottest recorded summers in Fort Worth?
- 2011 – average temperatures of 90.4 degrees
- 1980 – average temperatures of 89.4 degrees
- 2023 – average temperatures of 88.7 degrees
- 2022 – average temperatures of 88.4 degrees
(Source | National Weather Service)
Amid the growing number of hot days, MedStar saw a rise in the number of patients the EMS provider in Fort Worth treated for primary heat-related illnesses.
From May 1 to Sept. 24, MedStar treated 980 patients. Of those treated this year, 744 were transported to area hospitals.
The EMS provider also saw a rise in heat-related emergencies that weren’t related to illnesses, said Matt Zavadsky, chief transformation officer with MedStar.
“Heat exacerbates violence,” he said. “We tend to have a lot more domestic issues, stabbing, shooting assaults because it’s hot and people are angry.”
Number of patients MedStar treated for heat-related illnesses (from May to September) over the past 5 years:
- 2023: 980
- 2022: 859
- 2021: 503
- 2020: 519
- 2019: 584
(Source | MedStar)
In August 2023, MedStar crews treated 349 patients, compared to 129 patients in August 2022.
“We got into this normal pattern at the end of July, into early August where the hot humidity was normal,” Zavadsky said. “We saw the hot weather lingering longer.”
How to prepare for next summer
Going into summer 2024, Fort Worth can expect temperatures above 100 degrees. The big question is how many 100-degree days will the region experience, said Jennifer Dunn, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office.
“Right now climatological outlooks are going to probably be close to normal, maybe even slightly above,” she said. “We’ll just have to kind of wait and see how the overall pattern starts to evolve when we get into spring and early summer.”
Still, it’s never too early for residents to prepare for the heat next year.
Residents should get their air conditioning systems upgraded and start planning indoor family activities prior to May of next year. It’s also important to start taking care of your physical health during the wintertime, Zavadsky said.
“Take that off season to really start working on an exercise program and getting your health in order, it’ll be easier for you to manage the heat next year,” he said. “A lot of the calls we handled during the hot weather were for cardiac and respiratory issues that become exacerbated in the heat.”
Many people with pre-existing health conditions tend to be prescribed medications with side effects that include dehydration. Those residents are more prone to extreme states of dehydration, so they should stay out of the heat, said Dr. Terence McCarthy, emergency medicine physician at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.
Residents should invest in window coverings to minimize sunlight exposure that warms up space, Dr. Northeim said.
“The window coverings don’t have to be fancy,” she said. “They can be something that’s temporary, but blacking out the sun keeps your living space cooler.”
Moving into next year, Tarrant County should be more focused on those populations vulnerable to heat, said Dr. Northeim.
“We need to focus on choices that reduce vulnerability in populations and then develop resilience to these more extreme weather events,” Dr. Northeim said. “The research indicates that [extreme weather] is going to be occurring more frequently.”
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