Tuesday, July 08, 2008

TOP STORY > >Donated fans are going quickly

Leader staff writer

If you are in need of a donated fan or air conditioner, you had better apply quickly to local agencies, because the supply is limited.

For residents of Jacksonville, the best bet may be Watershed Human and Community Development Agency. The Little Rock organization still has a limited number of fans and air conditioners for individuals who can show true medical and financial need.

First consideration will be given to bedridden individuals with no air conditioning, the elderly, mothers with small children and those with serious health problems.

Folks living in White County who need a window air conditioner might check with the White River Area Agency on Aging in Batesville, which plans to give away window air conditioning units purchased with a $3,000 grant from Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. The agency serves a 10-county area, so that will buy about one unit per county, estimates executive director Ed Haas.

The agency will be very selective about who gets one. Households with existing air conditioners, even a broken one, are not eligible.

“We are looking for folks who don’t have air conditioning at all and have a medical condition that warrants it,” Haas said.

Watershed was one of 16 agencies and churches across Arkansas who received funds as part of a $50,000 grant from the attorney general. CareLink, that serves Pulaski and Lonoke counties, was a recipient of the same grant, but the 37 air conditioning units purchased are already earmarked for elderly persons served by that agency.

The Jacksonville Senior Center will be glad to distribute donated fans to those in need. Right now, the center has only two fans on hand and welcomes “gently used or new 20-inch box fans to give to people who need them,” said Betty Seales, the center’s assistant director. For seniors looking for a place to escape the heat, the center is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

If relief from summer electric bills is what you need, the Central Arkansas Development Council may be able to help. To be eligible, a household’s income must be at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line and not have received utility-bill assistance from the council this year.

With the advent of summer, precautions should be taken to avoid heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. The elderly, people with health problems, and young children are those most at risk. However, prolonged exposure to heat and humidity without replenishment of fluids and salts can cause illness, even in the healthy and fit. Heat cramps result from salt depletion due to heavy perspiration. Heat exhaustion is the most common heat-related illness; symptoms include weakness, nausea, dizziness and confusion.

Sunstroke – or heat stroke – is a life-threatening condition requiring emergency medical care. A victim’s temperature-regulating mechanism stops working and may result in permanent damage to internal organs. Symptoms are dry skin, high fever, delirium, and seizures. First aid includes cold baths, wet sheets, and application of ice.

Each year, about 370 deaths nationally are attributed to heat. In 2007, 10 deaths in Arkansas were caused by heat, according to death-certificate data from the Arkansas Center for Health Statistics. The year on record with the most Arkansas deaths due to heat was 1980, with 153 fatalities. Conditions increasing risk of heat-related illness include obesity, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation and prescription drug and alcohol use.

So far this year, temperatures in central Arkansas have not yet approached the extremes of last August, when for 10 days, including one stretch of eight days, the highs were 100 degrees or above. The summer outlook for this area, according to the NOAA Southern Regional Climate Center, is “near-normal precipitation and a 33 percent chance of above normal temperatures.”

Extreme temperatures like those of last year are not expected, but then neither were the blistering days of 2007. Last summer’s forecast only “indicated a warm and dry summer overall,” said Chris Buonanno, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service, Little Rock.

Heat spells like the one last year result when high pressure sets in over a region. Rainstorms are diverted around the system, while the air below only gets hotter day by day. Eventually, soil and plants dry out, halting evaporation and its cooling effect on the environment. According to Buonanno, that is basically what happened in 2007, when July was drier than normal, setting up conditions for the August heat wave.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has been issuing weather forecasts since 1792, also did not see the August 2007 heat wave coming.

The long-term forecast for last summer anticipated August average temperatures only one degree above average. Solar activity, local weather history, and a secret formula crafted by the almanac’s founder, Robert B. Thomas, are used to arrive at the seasonal forecasts formulated more than a year in advance.

The almanac claims “80 percent accuracy,” according to spokesperson Ginger Vaughan. For summer and fall 2008, the almanac predicts that July will be a degree cooler than average, balanced by a slightly warmer August, followed by a drier and cooler September and an unusually warm, dry October.