It’s hot.

Not that you need us to tell you that — it is the end of July in Charlottesville after all.

And while we all know to expect heat and humidity during a Central Virginia summer, we dread the discomfort — and the dangers — that can come with it.

As temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees this weekend, as they do most summers in Central Virginia, here’s what you need to know about the heat, including ways to look out for yourself and others.

It’s not the heat… it’s the humidity.

“I will confirm that it is hot,” said Travis Koshko, meteorologist for local TV news station CBS19. “But interestingly enough, to this point, it has not been a very hot summer in Central Virginia. The last time temperatures were over 95 degrees was June 17.”

So far this summer, temperatures have hovered mostly in the high 80s and low 90s, but it certainly feels hotter, said Koshko, and you can thank humidity for that.

Humidity is why he and other meteorologists are always talking about the “feels-like” temperature. It can make a 90-degree day feel like a 100-degree day because it affects the body’s ability to cool itself down.

The body’s natural cooling mechanism is sweat, said Koshko. The body sweats, the sweat evaporates off the skin, and that cools the body down.

But when moisture saturates the air, as it does on humid days, the air can’t absorb sweat as quickly as it does on drier days, and this slows the body’s natural cooling process.

High temperatures like the ones we’ll see this weekend and early next week, in combination with high humidity, increase people’s chances for heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke, said Jason Elliott, public information officer for the Blue Ridge Health District.

Elliott has some advice for how to stay, or get, cool.

Drink water

One of the easiest and most important ways to avoid heat-related illness is to drink water, said Elliott. The body needs water in order to sweat and cool itself down.

It’s particularly important to drink water throughout the day, and not just when thirst or that overheated feeling sets in.

Elliott also cautioned against drinking alcohol on very hot days. A cold drink can help you cool down, but not if it’s alcohol, which can contribute to dehydration, said Elliott. He urged outdoor festival attendees to be particularly aware of this advice when choosing between ice-cold water and an ice-cold beer.

Stay inside

“Prevention is our best tool when it comes to heat,” said Elliott. On especially hot and humid days, those who can stay inside should, whether it’s at home or work in the air conditioning, or at a public cooling center.

But not everyone has the option of staying inside, even on the hottest days. Mail carriers, food delivery drivers, construction workers, servers at outdoor restaurants, carpenters, farmers and many others work outside by necessity.

Look out for others

Folks who work outside often have their own methods of staying cool, but it still helps to have others looking out for them on hot days — and taking helpful action if necessary, said Elliott.

For instance, Cultivate Charlottesville volunteers and staff have to be outside in the heat, said Amyrose Foll, program director for Cultivate’s Urban Agriculture Collective and founder of Virginia Free Farm in Kents Store, Fluvanna County.

The work can’t stop, because they have people to feed, Foll said.

At this point in the year, employees and volunteers harvest crops from UAC gardens to give away for free during regular market days at low-income and public housing sites around the area.

Cultivate Charlottesville has replaced growing spaces at public housing sites to areas on West Street and at Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center. Here’s more about the gardens and community market days from a 2021 report.

“We have to make sure that for those neighbors who expect us to be there, that they have what they need,” said Foll. With inflation driving up grocery prices, giving people access to free fresh food is even more important.

So far this month, they’ve given away more than 2,000 pounds of food at the market days.

​​As far as keeping employees and volunteers safe in the heat, Cultivate Charlottesville observes guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

It has a few of its own rules, too. When temperatures top 85 degrees, volunteers aren’t allowed to work outside. If it’s over 90, paid employees “triage the work that’s critical and place all non-critical work on hold,” said Foll, and if it’s over 95, employees are encouraged to work remotely.

Employees who pick and pack produce, then hand it out during market days, take shorter shifts than usual. They take breaks in the shade, or in the gazebo recently built on the site of their garden at Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center.

But it’s important that they remind each other to get rest and cool off.

“I guess you could say we get used to it,” Foll said of working in the heat. “Like a plant gets hardened off from being in the weather, the wind, the heat, the cold.”

“It’s easy to get carried away, especially when you love what you do,” she said.

Listen to your body

“Our body is made to cool itself down. Sweating, slowing down, could mean that we’re cooling off, or that conditions are getting worse, said Elliot at Blue Ridge Health District. “We need to be paying attention to our bodies.”

Of the three most common heat-related illnesses — heat cramps, exhaustion and stroke — heat stroke is the most serious, he said. It can be fatal, or result in permanent disability.

Heat stroke happens when the body’s temperature rises so quickly that it can’t cool itself down. The symptoms can be easily overlooked, said Elliott:

  • High body temperature
  • Red, hot, dry skin
  • Not sweating
  • Rapid, or strong pulse
  • Dizziness, nausea, confusion
  • Unconsciousness

Anyone who suspects that they, or someone else, is dealing with heat stroke, should call 9-1-1 for help.

While waiting for help to arrive, Elliott recommends trying to cool off the sick person, spraying them with a garden hose, helping them into a tub of cool water, or rinsing them off in a cool shower. Dabbing their skin with a cold rag or sponge helps, too, as does getting them to a cooler area, whether that’s inside or in the shade.

Plan ahead

Elliott also recommends planning ahead for very hot days. Will you be indoors or out? Will you have access to water, or should you bring some with you? How much? Should you wear fewer layers of clothing? Shorts instead of pants?

Going hiking on a hot day? Take a buddy, said Elliott. Working in the yard? Have somebody there to keep an eye on you.

Pace yourself

“At the end of the day, we have to remember to pace ourselves,” said Elliott. “When the temperatures get hotter, it’s okay for us to do a little bit less, and it’s okay for us to do it a little bit slower.”

Here are local resources for hot days in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Where to get cool

This week, the City of Charlottesville opened three public cooling centers that will be open until further notice. Normally, guests must pay a drop-in fee to use city recreation centers, but there’s no fee to take advantage of the cooling centers, said Christopher Carr of Charlottesville Parks & Recreation. Cold bottled water is available at all three locations.

Key Recreation Center
800 E. Market Street
Monday through Friday, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Tonsler Recreation Center
501 Cherry Avenue
Monday to Friday, noon to 9 p.m.
Saturday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed Sundays

Jefferson-Madison Regional Library (Central Branch)201 E. Market Street
Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Sundays

All JMRL library branches are air conditioned and reliable places for cooling down.

Places to play in water

Charlottesville

Onesty Family Aquatics Center
Water slides, in-water playgrounds, lazy river, lap swimming, and more
300 Meade Avenue
Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to  7 p.m.
$2-$6 daily admission (children 3 and under free)

Washington Park Pool
Zero-depth play area, water slides, mushroom waterfall, lap swimming, and more
1001 Preston Avenue
Sunday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
$1-$6 daily admission (children 3 and under free)

Belmont Park Spray Ground
725 Stonehenge Avenue
Daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Free

Forest Hills Park Spray Ground
1022 Forest Hills Avenue
Daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Free

Greenleaf Park Spray Ground
1598 Rose Hill Drive
Daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Free

Tonsler Park Spray Ground
500 Cherry Avenue
Daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Free

Albemarle County

Chris Greene Lake Park
Swimming beaches, kayak/canoe rentals, and more
4748 Chris Greene Lake Road, Charlottesville
Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m to 7 p.m.
$2-$3 park entry fee (cash/check only); free entry Saturday, July 23 and Sunday, July 24
$5/hour canoe kayak rental

Walnut Creek Park
4250 Walnut Creek Road, North Garden
Swimming beaches, kayak/canoe rentals, boat launch and more
Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
$2-$3 park entry fee (cash/check only); free entry Saturday, July 23 and Sunday, July 24
$5/hour canoe kayak rental

The swimming beaches at Mint Springs Park in Crozet are currently closed due to staffing shortages.

Don’t forget your pets

Humans aren’t the only creatures who can overheat. The Albemarle-Charlottesville SPCA has thorough information on how to keep pets safe and comfortable in hot weather. Among them: Don’t shave your dog, and don’t leave pets in the car. Find more tips here.

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Erin O'Hare

I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's neighborhoods reporter. I’ve never met a stranger and love to listen, so, get in touch with me at eohare@cvilletomorrow.org, via Twitter @erinaroo, or flag me down when you see me out and about. If you’re not already subscribed to our free newsletter, you can do that here, and we’ll let you know when there’s a fresh story for you to read. I’m looking forward to getting to know more of you.