Safety paramount as sizzling summer ensues

June 12, 2013 10:46:12 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


The National Weather Service in Jackson is forecasting a high temperature of 96 degrees in Columbus today with the heat index expected to reach the triple digits. The arrival of summer weather in Mississippi brings with it the increased risk of heat-related illnesses, and it is important to take precautions to avoid extended exposure to the elements, according to NWS officials and local medical experts. 


NWS meteorologist Joanne Culin said there were 155 heat related fatalities last year across the country -- the top weather-related cause of death over the last 10 years, eclipsing other dangers including tornadoes and hurricanes. Culin, along with other officials, held a news conference Monday to discuss heat safety. 


"People can stay safe when temperatures get hot by taking frequent breaks if they're outside and drinking water so they can stay hydrated. Seek shelter during the hottest part of the day in air conditioning. If they don't have air conditioning, go to someplace that does, like a store, a library, a neighbor's house or some place where they can get relief from the heat," Culin said. "Wearing lightweight, light-colored clothing will help your body not absorb some of that heat." 


OCH Regional Medical Center Acute Care Charge Nurse Lynn Gregg said the hospital has already seen patients this week with symptoms of heat exhaustion. 


"Usually they come in complaining of dizziness or feeling like they were about to pass out," Gregg said. "We've had complaints of headaches, muscle cramps, profuse sweating and increased heart rate, all of which are symptoms." 


Culin said there is a growing concern of child fatalities from being left in hot cars. She said since 1998 there have been more than 560 such cases -- about 38 children per year. 


Culin said most of those fatalities are two-years-old or younger. Mississippi ranks fifth nationally in child deaths attributed to this cause. To date, there have been 10 such deaths, but not in Mississippi. 


"But we had two last year and one the year before that," Culin said. "Our slogan is to beat the heat and check the back seat." 


During his news conference, Culin demonstrated the intensity of heat inside a car with the windows up with the outside temperature at 88 degrees. 


"I put a thermometer in the car that had been at room temperature and about 35-40 minutes later it was around 136 degrees," she said. "Even (Monday) morning I had done the experiment and it was still somewhere around 77 degrees when I started and it got to over 100 degrees within 20 minutes. It doesn't take very long, especially if it's an enclosed car, for it to heat up." 


Children's body temperatures rise three to five times faster than those of adults, putting them at greater risk for heat exhaustion, stroke and death, Culin said.  


Gregg said people who have suffered from heat exhaustion are at greater risk of another case up to a week after the first instance. 


"People who start feeling like they're getting weak or faint or what they're doing makes them feel exerted or short of breath, they need to rest," Gregg said. "If they start having symptoms, they need to drink fluids and cool off by removing clothing, putting wet towels on their skin and finding shade. If they don't feel like they're getting better in 30 minutes to an hour, they may want to look into seeking some medical attention." 


Gregg said sports drinks can also be useful as they replace salts the body loses through sweat. 


A population more at risk this time of year is the elderly, Gregg said, adding that she encouraged community efforts to look after neighbors 65 years of age and older. 


Culin said overall, the best way to beat the heat is to use common sense. 


"This is the beginning of June and we're seeing the hottest temperatures that we've seen so far since late last summer, and it's only going to get hotter," she said.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.