Late summer heat not to be taken lightly

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NATCHEZ — With the heat index rising well over 100 degrees on Monday, the skyrocketing temperature was so astronomical, it warranted the issuance of a heat advisory.

The advisory was issued Monday morning by the National Weather Service and will last until 7 tonight.

Dave Hamrick, meteorologist intern with the National Weather Service in Jackson, said it is the humidity that can significantly boost a heat index.

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He said these kinds of advisories are common in this area at this time.

“We could see it again,” Hamrick said.

In fact, an excessive heat warning may be possible, which means for three hours in a single day, the heat index would be 115 degrees or higher.

Hamrick did say that is rare.

Still, with temperatures so high, it’s pertinent to take necessary precautions to combat it.

Dr. Michael Wheelis, medical director for the emergency department at Natchez Community Hospital, said the best thing to do is stay indoors.

“I always tell people they need to stay indoors, as if it were very cold outside,” Wheelis said.

But for people like J.C. Smith, that’s just not an option.

Smith is the father of Tom Smith, who owns Fred’s Greenhouse.

Seventy-seven-year-old Smith is watching over the business while his son and daughter-in-law are away.

With this heat, he has to work twice as hard to keep the plants alive.

He said under normal circumstances, he would only water the plethora of plants once or twice a day.

“I have to water them three, four, five times today,” he said Monday afternoon.

This proves to be quite an undertaking.

“Sometimes it takes four, five, six hours,” Smith said.

With no air conditioning around and his day beginning at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m., Smith just can’t avoid his exposure to the heat.

He said he will not work during some of the hottest hours of the day.

“You’ve got to take a break,” he said.

Smith said he also keeps himself hydrated throughout the day.

This, Wheelis said is key. And to not just hydrate with water alone.

He said it’s important to replace nutrients that are lost by sweating and this can be done with a drink that has electrolytes, like Gatorade or Powerade.

Drinks containing alcohol and caffeine should be avoided, he said.

“Alcohol functions as a diuretic, which means it pulls out more fluid than it returns to your body,” he said.

Wheelis said while overhydration is possible, it’s unlikely.

“Your body will tell you when it’s getting enough,” he said.

If certain precautions aren’t taken, the body can react in a few ways.

First, one can experience heat exhaustion, which according to Wheelis is “an acute heat injury with hyperthermia owing to dehydration.”

The symptoms of heat exhaustion are fatigue, lethargy, weakness, head and muscle ache, profuse sweating, increased heart rate and increased thirst, he said.

Wheelis suggests that the response to these symptoms should be finding somewhere cool to rest immediately and begin hydrating.

“If they don’t feel better with rest and hydration, they should report to their local emergency room for evaluation,” he said.

Sweating, while it may not be the body’s most desirable mechanism, is an important factor in determining whether a very serious health risk is taking place.

“(It’s) a very bad sign when people are hot and dry in this heat. That’s when you go into a heat stroke situation,” he said.

“Heat stroke is a true medical emergency and a person needs immediate medical attention.”

Heat stroke happens when the body’s temperature rises above 105 degrees, he said. It’s characterized by exhaustion, confusion, disorientation, hot, flushed, dry skin and even by going into a coma.

Heat stroke can even lead to death.

The people who are most at risk to suffering from heat exhaustion are the elderly, children 2 years old or younger, pregnant women, obese individuals and people with heart disease.