NWS warns of dangerous heat wave; four killed already in Texas

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 7/20/2016

Hot and humid weather conditions are expected to set up a dangerous and deadly heat wave across a large portion of the central and southern states this week, according to information from the National Weather Service.

Excessive heat warnings and heat advisories are in effect for much of the Plains, Mississippi Valley, Midwest and southern states throughout the weekend, according to the weather agency’s website. The forecast calls for heat indices in several states to reach as high as 115 degrees.

Stephen Rodriguez, a forecaster with the Chicago branch of the NWS, said that in addition to the heat the high humidity in the impacted region has the potential to be dangerous.

“We’re definitely looking at warmer temperatures across the central part of the U.S. over the next couple of days,” he said in a phone interview with Land Line. “That humidity will create a setup for high heat index values. … It’s going to impact a good portion of the nation’s midsection, all the way from Minnesota down into Texas, Arkansas, and even Alabama and Louisiana.”

“Anybody within that area would want to take extra precautions, because most of those locations are going to be very hot and humid,” Rodriguez said.

Health department officials in El Paso say four deaths so far are attributable to heat-related illnesses. In a news release issued Tuesday, the city’s health department noted that the victims – three males and one female – range in age from their mid-30s to their early 80s. Three deaths were related to heat stroke and one showed heat exposure as a contributing factor.

“This is a heartbreaking scenario considering the fact that most heat-related deaths are preventable,” said Robert Resendes, El Paso public health director.

Resendes encouraged all residents to be “proactive” and to keep an eye out for those who are most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, including the elderly and young children.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, heat emergencies are caused by exposure to extreme heat and sun.

For truckers working in the affected areas, an abundance of caution is recommended for anyone who is loading or unloading a trailer while in the heat. The weather service has an online resource on heat safety, available here, and recommends those working outside or in an environment without air-conditioning stay hydrated and take breaks in the shade whenever possible. It also recommends limiting strenuous outdoor activity.

 The NLM states that a person is more likely to feel the effects of heat sooner if he or she is not used to high temperatures or humidity; is a child or an older adult; is already ill from another cause or injury; or if he or she is obese.

Consuming alcohol or not drinking enough fluids on warmer days can also hurt the body’s ability to regulate temperature, making a heat emergency more likely. Certain medications, such as beta blockers, water pills or diuretics, and antidepressants can also increase the risk of heat-related emergencies or illnesses.

Heat cramps are the first stage of heat illness. If untreated, these can lead to heat exhaustion and then heatstroke. Heat cramps are often characterized by muscle cramps or pains, often in the legs or abdomen, very heavy sweating, fatigue and thirst.

If left untreated, those symptoms can turn into heat exhaustion, characterized by headache, weakness, dizziness or light-headedness, nausea and vomiting and dark urine.

The most serious heat-related illness is heatstroke, which manifests as fever, irrational behavior and extreme confusion, a rapid and weak pulse, rapid and shallow breathing, seizures or unconsciousness. Heatstroke is also characterized by the victim having dry, hot and red skin.

Treatments for heat illness or emergency include applying a cool, wet cloth or cool water to the person’s skin. You can also use a fan or cold compresses to lower the person’s body temperature. The NLM also provides a list of things not to do when treating a heat emergency, such as giving the patient aspirin or acetaminophen, salt tablets (unless mixed with water), or alcohol or caffeinated beverages.

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