Photo of back bench of family sedan with child seat empty Beat the Heat, Check the Backseat NOAA Icon
Beat the Heat... Check the Back Seat!

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Stifling heat and humidity are a hallmark of the summer in the Rio Grande Valley. This August is running a shade hotter, and more humid, than average; more of the same is expected through the middle of the month. One of the biggest weather related risks during the summer months is the possibility of a child dying in a vehicle from heat stroke. The temperature inside a vehicle can rise 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes, and 50 degrees in an hour. In the Rio Grande Valley, actual temperatures are well into 90s, and heat index ("feels–like" temperature) routinely between 100°F and 105°F (38°C and 41°C) on most days from June to September. When this heat enters a closed vehicle, actual temperatures inside the vehicle can reach 130°F (54°C) in minutes, and approach 150°F (66°C) in less than an hour! This can cause hyperthermia (heat stroke) in only minutes, particularly in children, whose body temperatures warm at a rate three to five times faster than an adult.

In the last 12 years, 482 children have died nationwide from heat stroke suffered while in a vehicle. Half of these were children that were forgotten by a parent or other caregiver, and nearly 20 percent died when parents knowingly left their child in a vehicle. The other died playing in an unattended vehicle. Of these 482 fatalities, 66 occurred in Texas. Since 2003, eight children have died from vehicle hyperthermia in the Rio Grande Valley, an average of 1 per year. In July, 2010, an infant was rescued from a hot car just as hyperthermia was setting in. Through early August, 38 children have died nationwide from heat stroke while in a vehicle. These include 11 more unfortunate deaths since August 11th; 2010 has now eclipsed 2009 (33) with more heat to come.

All of these tragic deaths are preventable. To help bring awareness to this issue, the NWS is using the slogan "Beat the Heat, Check the Backseat" to remind people to remember to check for small children in a car seat, and to never leave children unattended in a vehicle, even for a few moments.

The following are basic safety recommendations:

  • Never Leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Not even for a minute!
  • If you see a child unattended in a hot vehicle, call 9-1-1 immediately!
  • 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.
  • If a child is missing, ALWAYS CHECK THE CAR FIRST!
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the carseat. 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.
  • Ensure your child care provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.
Pets are family, too! Never leave them in a vehicle during the summer.

If you have any questions about "Beat the Heat, Check the Backseat", please contact Mr. Barry Goldsmith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, with the National Weather Service in Brownsville, serving the Rio Grande Valley and all of Deep South Texas.

Much of the information on this page is based on research by Mr. Jan Null, Certified Consulting Meteorologist, Adjunct Professor of Meteorology at San Francisco State University, CA, and a 34 year veteran with the National Weather Service. You can find his research and information at: Golden Gate Weather Services.


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