From the ABC 7 Weather team

'Heat cramps' in Detroit: Is D.C. tougher than the Motor City?

June 8, 2011 - 01:09 PM
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If you’re out in the 90-degree weather today and all of a sudden your back and abdominal-wall muscles start doing a syncopated rumba, then you might have an alarming condition known as “heat cramps.”

Heat advisories stand in D.C. and Detroit today, but only one city is warning its citizenry about "heat cramps."

If you’re out in the 90-degree weather today and all of a sudden your back and abdominal-wall muscles start doing a syncopated rumba, then you might have an alarming condition known as “heat cramps.”

The medical term is used today in the National Weather Service’s heat advisory for Detroit, which warns: “Strenuous outdoor activity could lead to heat injuries such as heat stroke… heat exhaustion… or heat cramps.”

Heat cramps – what the hey?

This convulsive disorder typically strikes when people are exercising heavily in ultra-hot conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people “who sweat a lot” are particularly vulnerable. The perspiration robs the body of its saltwater reservoir, causing involuntary twinges more painful and prolonged than nocturnal leg spasms. Heat cramps might also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. The treatment: Cool down, drink fluids, gently massage your bod.

So why is Detroit (current temperature: 93) warning its citizenry about this insidious disorder, whereas the heat advisory in Washington (current temperature at Reagan: 95) stays prosaic with “heat exhaustion and heat stroke”?

“That’s a good question. I think we get a lot of those disclaimers from the [federal] health board,” says Dave Cook, a meteorologist at Detroit’s NWS office. “A lot of that [language] is standard for them. We’re not medical people at all.”

Hmm… not much help there. Here are two uninformed speculations, though. One: People in Detroit, a legendary blue-collar factory town, are doing harder physical work than our hometown lobbyists and policy drones. Two: “Hot” in Detroit is not the same thing as “hot” in D.C.

Each NWS office tweaks its advisories and warnings to suit the local weather conditions. So while Detroit issues an advisory when the heat index ranges from the mid-90s to around 100 degrees, it takes an index reading of 100 to 105 degrees for D.C. to sound the alarm. (See the hottest local days on record.) That’s the reason that Philadelphia is under an “excessive heat warning” for temperatures that feel around 100, whereas we're at a stepped-down advisory.

Does that mean D.C. is tougher? In the summer, maybe. In the winter its a different story altogether.

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