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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 07/ 9/2010

A deadly combo: heat, cars and kids

By Capital Weather Gang

* A few drops of rain? Maybe? CWG's Full Forecast | NatCast *
* Dog dies in hot car in Md. | How to stay safe in the heat *

By Jan Null

Safety Recommendations



* Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don't overlook sleeping babies.

* Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices. If a child is missing, check the car first, including the trunk. Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.

* Keep a stuffed animal in the carseat and when the child is put in the seat place the animal in the front with the driver.

* Or place your purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.

* Make "look before you leave" a routine whenever you get out of the car.

* Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.

As temperatures rise across the nation, sadly so do the number of children who die after being left inside hot vehicles. Already this year there have been 20 deaths of children in hot cars. And it does not have to be a blazing hot day in a southern state for these tragedies to take place as evidenced by the fact that, over the years, there have been deaths of children in hot vehicles in 46 states and with temperatures as cool as the upper 60s.

We have all heard about an isolated incident or two of a child dying in a hot car. However, when put into a nationwide context they constitute an epidemic; claiming an average of 37 young lives every year in the United States. Since 1998 over 465 infants and children have died horrible deaths due to hyperthermia inside hot vehicles. But you can help save some of these precious lives.

Keep reading for more on how to guard against these preventable deaths...

Over half of juvenile vehicular hyperthermia fatalities occur when a caregiver is somehow distracted and accidentally leaves a child in a vehicle. And in nearly half of these cases, the child was supposed to be dropped off at either childcare or preschool. These cases happen to parents, grandparents, siblings and childcare providers. It is often a matter of a change of routine, where one person normally is responsible for a child and on a given day another person forgets they have the responsibility that day.

The other categories of circumstances that lead to hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles are children playing in vehicles and children intentionally left in vehicles. In the former, which account for about 30% of the cases, children gain access to a vehicle and are subsequently overcome by the heat. And sadly in the latter instance that makes up about one-in-five of the deaths, children are intentionally left in vehicles by a caregiver who has to run an errand, get their hair done, go to bar or the casino, etc.

What is hyperthermia? In the simplest terms it describes heat-related illnesses when a body's temperature exceeds its normal range. If a body is subjected to extreme temperatures its ability to cool itself becomes overwhelmed. This is especially true for infants and children whose body's heat at a rate of three to five times faster than adults. When a human body temperature reaches 104 degrees (the clinical definition for heat stroke) its cooling system begins to shut down. A person with heat stroke may experience symptoms that include confusion, faintness, strong and rapid pulse, and possible delirium, hot dry skin or even unconsciousness. Continued exposure to very high temperatures can produce brain damage, and at 107 degrees cells within the body start to die and organs begin to shut down, quickly leading to death.

In the summer of 2002 a controlled study was conducted to quantify how hot enclosed vehicles get and how rapidly they can reach dangerous temperatures. This research was published in the journal Pediatrics and is maintained on line at The conclusions of the research were startling in how extreme the conditions inside a car can reach. Within the first 10 minutes a vehicle will warm to almost 20 degrees above the outside air temperature; after 30 minutes it is 34 degrees warmer and after an hour it plateaus as much as 45 to 50 degrees warmer than the air outside. Consequently, even on a mild 70-degree day temperatures can reach readings that can be fatal to an infant or small child. The research also found that "cracking" the windows had a negligible effect on the temperature.

It has become the "go to" article on the topic and is used worldwide. Hopefully this research will raise the level of interest and awareness about this sad topic and ultimately to save some innocent lives. The bottom line is that each and every one of these deaths is 100% preventable. Infants and children are the most precious cargo that is ever transported in a vehicle and everyone should be cognizant of the potential dangers to a child left alone in a car.

For more stats and info on this subject, visit

The author, a former National Weather Service lead forecaster, owns the Golden Gate Weather Services consulting firm and is an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University. One of his major research areas is the dynamics of how hot vehicles can get and the tracking of hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles.

By Capital Weather Gang  | July 9, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Extreme Heat  
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Another broiling hot weather no-no: talking a dog for a lengthy walk on hot pavement. I see ninnies all around my Glover Park neighborhood walking the pets during the heat of the day, their animals obviously uncomforable, their paws getting burned by the hot pavement and asphalt, while their owners thoughtlessly chatter away on their cellphones or sway to the music on their ipods.

You really wonder why such clueless people own pets.

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | July 9, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget heat, cars, and PETS. While the death of any child is certainly tragic, there are probably hundreds of times as many deaths of dogs and other helpless animals. We can only wonder how many such deaths go unreported, as the vast majority surely are.

Posted by: MrDarwin | July 9, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Mr.Darwin, how many of us can forget that old commercial "Hot enough to fry an egg? Hot enough to FRY YOUR DOG'S BRAIN!"

Posted by: rwalker66 | July 9, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

My 13 year-old looked up after hearing another one of these stories on the news and asked why car manufacturers didn't use the same technology that reports that your seatbelt wasn't fastened to report that the ones in the back seat were. After I reminded him that most car seats stayed buckled in (unlike his younger sib's booster), he sat down and sketched out a sensor that fit under the seat of a standard car seat and can plug into a port that would set off the alarm up front if there was more than five pounds sitting in a car seat and the keys were out/door open. I don't know if it would fly with the car makers, but he's working on a prototype when it's too hot to be out.

Posted by: technomuse | July 9, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Hey guys,

I know we are a week away, but how does the weather look next Sat/Sun, I have a wedding to attend and am hoping for dry weather!


Posted by: snowlover | July 9, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

There are two such incidents I remember here from recent years. In one a lady got fired from her job and in the confusion she forgot her young daughter was out waiting in the car--temperature was at least in the high eighties. In the other instance around three years ago a man left his two/three year old son [recently adopted from Russia] out in a hot car while running an errand--the boy was dead when he got back.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | July 9, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Wow, 50 degrees warmer within 30 minutes. That's scary. Thanks for this info, Jan. I'm curious ... Does it happen more often in certain parts of the country, such as states with high average summer temps, or is it more likely to happen during heat waves when people are not used to the heat and not aware of this danger?

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | July 9, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

If you wonder how something so bad can happen to good parents' children, I highly recommend reading the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post Magazine feature article, "Fatal Distraction", by Gene Weingarten.

It's hauntingly sad, but ultimately uplifting in the hope it gives that this tragedy depends on circumstances amenable to public education and perhaps legislation. For example, a common factor in many of these accidents is the victim was asleep buckled in a car seat in the rear of the vehicle, such that the driver while exiting didn't see the child.

Posted by: jhbyer | July 9, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm so paranoid about getting locked out of the car when putting a child in the back seat, I always open the front door before shutting the rear door.

Posted by: spgass1 | July 9, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

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