Prevent Sunburn: Slip, Slop, Slap!
Summertime is a great time to be out on the water in the Florida Keys. Winds usually die down from their winter and spring peaks, and seas correspondingly subside. Summer squalls usually are short, isolated and slow-moving, and the summer sun shines brightly through tropical blue skies. However, too much of a good thing can be painful, at the very least, and potentially even lethal. The sun is essential for life on earth. Sunlight enables certain biological processes in both plants and animals. In addition, solar energy sustains the daily and seasonal atmospheric and oceanic circulations which drive our weather and climate. Energy from the sun arrives at the top of the earth’s atmosphere in three primary forms: infrared radiation, visible light, and ultraviolet radiation. The ultraviolet, or “UV”, radiation is mostly absorbed by the stratospheric ozone layer. However, enough of it seeps through to the surface of the earth to be of concern to humans, especially those who live in or near the tropics, and spend a lot of time outside. Exposure to excessive UV radiation from the sun on a single day can result in a painful sunburn (literally, a “radiation burn”), and prolonged exposure over months or years has been linked with higher rates of cataracts and skin cancer.
Solar UV radiation is an ever-present hazard in the Florida Keys, especially for those whose work exposes them daily to several hours of bright sun and potentially harmful UV radiation. Fortunately, a number of simple means exist by which you can protect yourself and reduce your risk to the harmful effects of UV radiation. In short, just “slip-slap-slop”! That is -- Slip on a shirt. Slop on some 30+ sunscreen. Slap on a hat. These three simple actions, made famous through an Australian sun protection campaign in the 1980s, have been shown to reduce the risk for both sunburn and certain types of skin cancer. Of course, you may also choose to seek shade, especially between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when incoming solar UV radiation is most intense. Keep in mind that some UV radiation will penetrate a thin overcast, so it is wise to “slop” on sunscreen, even under a cloudy sky.
One tool which may help you assess the potential for skin-damaging UV radiation is the “UV Index”, a next day forecast of the amount of skin-damaging UV radiation expected to reach the earth’s surface at the time when the sun is highest in the sky (solar noon). The amount of UV radiation reaching the surface is related primarily to the elevation of the sun in the sky, the amount of ozone in the stratosphere, and the amount of clouds present. The UV Index can range from 0 (at night) to 16 (in the tropics at high elevations under clear skies). UV radiation is greatest when the sun is high in the sky, and rapidly decreases as the sun approaches the horizon. The higher the UV Index, the greater the dose rate of skin-damaging (and eye-damaging) UV radiation. Consequently, the higher the UV Index, the quicker skin damage occurs.
In the Florida Keys, the UV Index typically will fall between 8 and 11 on most days from May through September. This falls into either the “very high” or “extreme” exposure category, thus requiring protective actions against sun damage.
The UV Index is created jointly by NOAA/National Weather Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To access the UV Index for your area, check out the following web site:
From this web site you also will be able to access maps, web widgets, and Smartphone apps.
To protect yourself from the sun, remember to SLIP, SLOP, SLAP. And, as always, be weather-ready, and stay safe!
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