Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TOP STORY >> Flood to swelter

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

In a matter of a few weeks, central Arkansas went from a whole lot of rain to nary a drop and from spring temperatures to triple-digit heat indices.

In May, the area received 13.06 inches of rain, 259 percent more than normal. But through Tuesday, June’s rain total was just 0.96 of an inch, less than a third of the nearly three inches the area normally gets in June.

As this hot spell began on June 16, ground water and green vegetation helped hold down readings a few degrees. However, with the ground slowly drying out, temperatures eventually edged upward.

But the heat indices have been over 100 degrees since last Wednesday.

On Monday, much of the state was in the upper 90s to around 100 degrees. Heat index values reached 107 degrees at Little Rock, 106 degrees at Hot Springs and 105 degrees at Russellville (Pope County). Elsewhere, values were generally between 100 and 105 degrees.

By mid-day Tuesday the heat index value in the local area was between 108 to 110 degrees.

As June comes to a close, the National Weather Service says there are signs of at least some relief. A high will wobble into the southern Plains and a clockwise flow around the high will drive weak cold fronts into Arkansas from the north.

FRONT ARRIVING

A front coming in midweek should trigger isolated thunderstorms during the afternoon/evening hours, and will be followed by slightly cooler air Thursday and Friday. It appears another front will head into the region Sunday.

Some severe weather may accompany these fronts. The probability of strong to damaging winds tends to increase as temperatures go up, according to the weather service. There is more potential for rapid cooling as precipitation forms, giving storm downdrafts more strength.

While the heat is not expected to end, and rain is not expected to be widespread, the fronts will help break the monotony of an otherwise stagnant pattern, weather officials say.

While it is hot, people need to be careful, said Ed Barham of the state Health Department. Day after day of heat could take its toll, especially on those who work outdoors or are away from an air-conditioned environment, Barham said.

On average, there are 400 heat-related deaths a year in the country The 1995 heat wave in the Midwest contributed to 716 heat-related deaths.

The heat wave of 1980 was an especially hard one for Arkansas, when 153 heat-related deaths occurred. Since then, heat has caused the deaths of 235 Arkansans. Last year, seven Arkansans died from the extreme hot weather, Barham said.

EVERYONE AT RISK

Dr. Richard Nugent, medical leader, southeastern health region, said, “While the elderly, people with health problems, and very young children are the most vulnerable, heat can affect anyone—even strong, healthy athletes.

“Our bodies are cooled primarily by losing heat through skin and perspiration. 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 heat-related illness may develop,” Nugent said.

The human body has an internal thermostat that is designed to help maintain proper body temperatures. However, sometimes extreme heat can cause the body thermostat to malfunction, which can result in one or more of the following conditions:

Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age but is most common in young children. Although heat rash occurs because of exposure to extreme heat, treating heat rash is simple and usually does not require medical assistance. Other heat-related problems can be much more severe.

Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat heavily during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body’s salt, magnesium and water. The low salt and magnesium levels in the muscles may be the cause of heat cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop in exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. It is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure and people working or exercising in a hot environment.

Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

Most heat-related deaths occur when high temperatures overcome the body’s natural ability to cope with heat. The elderly, very young children and persons with chronic medical conditions (especially cardiovascular disease) are at the highest risk.
Elderly people should avoid staying shut-up indoors during heat waves without using air conditioning. More than half of the 700 heat-related deaths in the 1995 Chicago heat wave could have been prevented with an air conditioner in the home, according to a published study.

Experts say fans are apparently not effective against heat illness during intense heat waves. If you cannot afford an air conditioner for your home, spend more time in other air-conditioned environments. Access to air conditioning for even a few hours a day is protective.

Those who work, exercise or participate in strenuous activity, such as sports or gardening for an hour or more during intense heat may lose or sweat up to two quarts of water.

TAKE PRECAUTIONS

If you must pursue intense activity during hot weather, follow these safety tips:

Drink plenty of water; fluid replacement is crucial to avoid heat risks. Drink more water than usual before exercising or working in the heat. (If you are elderly or taking medication, ask your doctor about fluid intake recommendations.)

Schedule your strenuous activity during the coolest time of the day.

Monitor how you feel. If you have difficulty maintaining your regular pace, slow it down.

If you know someone who may be at risk for heat-related problems, check on them frequently.

Also do not forget about pets.

Never leave your pet in the car. Though it may seem cool outside, the sun can increase the temperature inside your car to 120 degrees in a matter of minutes even with the windows rolled down. If you need to run some errands, leave the furry ones at home.

Water, water everywhere. Whether you’re indoors or out, both you and your pet need access to lots of fresh water during the summer, so check the pet’s water bowl several times a day to be sure it’s full.

If you and your furry friend venture forth for the afternoon, bring plenty of water for both of you.

Hot weather may tempt your pet to drink from puddles in the street, which can contain antifreeze and other chemicals.

Antifreeze has a sweet taste that animals like, but it’s extremely toxic. When you’re walking your pet, make sure it doesn’t sneak a drink from the street.

Be cautious on humid days. Humidity interferes with animals’ ability to rid themselves of excess body heat. When we overheat we sweat, and when the sweat dries, it takes excess heat with it. Our four-legged friends only perspire around their paws, which is not enough to cool the body.

To rid themselves of excess heat, animals pant. Air moves through the nasal passages, which picks up excess heat from the body. As it is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control body heat, it is severely limited in areas of high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.

Bring them inside. Animals shouldn’t be left outside unsupervised on long, hot days, even in the shade. Shade can move throughout the afternoon, and pets can become ill quickly if they overheat, so keep them inside as much as possible. If you must leave your pet in the backyard, keep a close eye on it and bring it in when you can.