With heat like this, you’re more likely to die with a fan on than off, health experts say

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Fans aren't really your friends in the excessive heat that’s setting in over the next several days, according to health experts.

The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for the Kansas City region starting at 1 p.m. Wednesday through 8 p.m. Saturday. The heat index is expected to reach 105 to 110 degrees every day.

Bill Snook, a spokesperson with the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, warns that fans won’t be enough to keep people cool in those conditions.

"Fans are good to a point, but we're going to have very high humidity,” Snook said. “It’s going to be a warm, wet heat. That is going to be the challenge this time around."

Snook said fans don’t remove humidity. Instead, they move air over your skin, evaporating moisture more quickly than usual.

“When it evaporates into an already humid environment, there's not a lot of room for that sweat to go. So you're basically pulling more water out,” he explained.

Think about it like being in an oven.

"If you look at a convection oven and a regular oven, the only difference is you’ve added a fan. So we always say fans should not be your first line of defense with a heat event,” he said.

Between two and four people have died each year, over the past five summers, because of heat-related issues. There were 21 deaths in 2000.

“When we look at those death scene investigations, we're seeing that you're more likely to die with a fan on than without,” Snook said. “A lot of them have cardiovascular disease. A lot of them have some mental health challenges. Some folks are using alcohol and other substances.”

The Bishop Sullivan Center is working to keep seniors cool by providing free air conditioners.

“We know people are trying to stay cool with fans, but we realize when we walk in, it just feels like an oven,” said Chaneele Zak, the communications director with the center.

The organization launched its Project ElderCool program following the deadly summer of 2000. Since then, they’ve installed more than 6,000 units.

“[So far this year] we've installed over 70 air conditioners, and the phones are getting busier and busier,” she said.

The health department stressed fans are not all bad, but they have to be combined with other ways of staying cool.

“Cool showers, cool drinks, cool compresses. You put them on your neck, under your armpits, on your groin,” Snook said. “Those areas are where it`s going to cool the blood flow a little bit.”

The Salvation Army will open several cooling stations across the metro on Wednesday beginning at 1 p.m.

Here is a list of the locations:

  • Blue Valley Community Center, 6618 East Truman Rd., Kansas City, Mo.
  • Eastside Community Center, 3013-17 East 9th St., Kansas City, Mo.
  • Independence Community Center, 14700 East Truman Rd., Independence, Mo.
  • Kansas City, Kansas Community Center, 6723 State Ave., Kansas City, Kan.
  • Northland Community Center, 5306 N. Oak Trafficway, Kansas City, Mo.
  • Olathe Community Center, 420 E. Santa Fe, Olathe, Kan.
  • Southland Community Center, 6111 E. 129th St., Grandview, Mo.
  • Westport Community Center, 500 West 39th St., Kansas City, Mo.

The cooling shelters will provide air-conditioned public spaces and serve cold water along with light snacks and provide heat survival information through Saturday evening.

For more information regarding other cooling stations or resources available to stay cool, call United Way at 211.

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