Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

TOP STORY >>Drought, heat start to ease, but watch out

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Temperatures are dropping into the low 90s for the weekend and a sprinkling of rain has misted most of the state, but the reality of heat-related deaths remains.

The state Health Department has confirmed eight heat-related deaths so far this summer, most occurring because of August’s 12 days of 100-plus degrees.

According to John Senner, branch chief for the Center for Health Statistics, Arkansas averages 10 heat-related deaths a year.
The heat wave topped off Aug. 12 at 106 degrees, and most recently hit 100 degrees Monday. The 106-degree high of Aug. 12 was the hottest temperature central Arkansas has seen in seven years. August ended with 28 days of highs of 95 degrees or greater and a high temperature average about six degrees above the norm.

The heat has been exacerbated by the lack of rain. Most of the central Arkansas went almost the entire month without more than a sprinkle of rain, forcing all central Arkansas counties to issue burn bans. In all, 58 of the state’s 75 counties have issued burn bans.

Most of the state is suffering moderate to extreme drought conditions. Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties are in the severe category according to the National Weather Service.

Pulaski County’s rain totals for August were more than two inches below the average, and the area is more than six inches off the norm for the year.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said excessive heat exposure caused more than 8,000 deaths in the United States over the past 25 years.

While elderly, people with health problems and very young children are the most vulnerable, heat can affect anyone—even strong, healthy athletes can be stricken, officials said.

Ann Wright, with the Arkansas Health Department, explained that several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather.

When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly.
Other conditions related to risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart diseases, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn and drug use, including alcohol.

“Our bodies are cooled primarily by losing heat through the skin by perspiration and evaporation,” Wright said. “Problems occur when we are unable to shed excess heat. When our heat gain exceeds the amount we can get rid of, our temperature begins to rise and a heat-related illness may develop,” she said.

Heat illness or conditions include rashes, cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be fatal.