Friday, August 05, 2011

TOP STORY > >Temps: Hot, hotter, hottest

Leader staff writer

Stay indoors is what everyone from weather forecasters, health professionals and city leaders are saying as local hospitals saw 21 victims of heat-related illnesses in the past week and Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher doesn’t want anybody to become victim 22.

July turned out to be the fifth-hottest and third-driest July on record and the high temperatures through the first four days of August averaged 105 degrees.

The 112 degrees recorded at Little Rock Air Force Base on Wednesday set a new record-high August temperature for the area. It was previously 111 degrees set Aug. 30, 2000, and was just one degree off the all-time area high temperature of 113 set in July 1986.

In fact, the temperatures have been so hot that water departments and utility companies breathed a sigh of relief on Friday when the local temperature leveled off at 97 degrees.

Jacque Davidson, chief nursing officer, said North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville has treated nine patients with heat- related illnesses since Monday, with five of those coming in on Tuesday. Monday and Wednesday saw two cases each.

On Monday, an 84-year-old came to the hospital with heat syncope — unconsciousness caused by excessive heat — and a 31-year-old sought out treatment for severe sunburn.

Tuesday saw one heat-stroke victim and four others were treated with heat exhaustion. All the patients were in their 40s with the exception of a 24-year-old who came in for heat exhaustion. Two more heat-exhaustion patients, a 34-year-old and a 52-year-old, were treated on Wednesday.

The patients included several men and women. Some were employed in jobs that require them to work outdoors.

St. Vincent Medical Center North in Sherwood, as of Friday morning, had treated 14 with heat-related illnesses within the last seven days.

All of those patients, who were mostly middle-aged working-class individuals, were treated and released for heat-related symptoms. No heat-stroke victims were treated, said Dayna Holden, marketing manager at St. Vincent Health System.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said no one has requested the city open a public heat-relief center, but he is prepared to call on 19 churches to serve as cooling-off places if the need arises.

The community center was opened last summer for that purpose, but Fletcher explained that he’d rather use the center as a second option because the majority of the building’s rooms are rented out most of the time for public and private events and meetings.

Fletcher also said he wasn’t pushing for quick completion of city construction projects because he understands the heat is burdensome to workers. Battalion Chief Bob Thornton with the Jacksonville Fire Department said it responded to one or two brush fires and a few medical assist runs in the past week.

The department is holding training indoors to keep firefighters at their best, not tired or overheated, for when they have to go out to address an emergency. Jacksonville and surrounding cities have been under a burn ban due to parched conditions.

Code enforcement is going about business as usual, said City Engineer Jay Whisker, although inspectors aren’t having a lot of problems with long grass because having no rainfall has stunted growth and is wilting yards.

Entergy Arkansas, Inc. and First Electric Cooperative asked customers to reduce their usage in order to avoid an overload of electrical lines that could cause power outages.

Utility workers have to be out in the heat, but they’ve been taking frequent breaks and drinking plenty of fluids, said Entergy meter-reader supervisor Tommy Williams on Friday morning. He added that employees work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. to minimize exposure to the heat.

Jacksonville Senior Center has had a few walk-ins come in to cool off or get a drink of water, said activities director Betty Seales. She added that the center has a telephone-reassurance program, which is used to check on 50 to 60 shut-ins living in Jacksonville.

“Everyone is complaining. The heat is an imposition,” Seales continued, saying high temperatures have been hard on volunteers who bring food and other items to elderly residents because they have to walk to and from their vehicles when they make deliveries.

Out of July’s 31 days, 30 of them had temperatures above normal, so far in August, every day has been above normal.

The National Weather Service said July’s average high temperature of 97.7 degrees was the hottest in 13 years and the month, complete with eight 100-degree days, came in as the fifth-hottest July on record. The average low temperature of 76.1 degrees made July the second warmest on record based on low temperatures.

July only had five days of measurable rain and the area received less than a quarter-of-an-inch of rain the entire month.

Although certain groups — the elderly (age 65 and older), children, infants and people with chronic medical conditions — are more at risk for heat-related afflictions, North Metro’s Davidson emphasized, “heat doesn’t discriminate.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, air conditioning is the number-one protection from heat-related illness and death.

The center’s guide, located at, suggests those without air conditioning at home go to places with air conditioning, such as shopping malls and public libraries.

Measures people should take to avoid being overcome by scorching temperatures include:

 Drink plenty of fluids

 Replace salt and minerals lost from sweating by consuming sport drinks

 Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and sunscreen

 Stay indoors

 Pace yourself and rests often in shady areas if you have to be outdoors

Warning signs of heat stroke may include a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, red, hot and dry skin (no sweating), rapid, strong pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and fainting.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting and fainting. The person suffering from heat exhaustion may also have cool and moist skin, a fast and weak pulse rate and fast and shallow breathing. Untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke.

Davidson added that once someone has had a heat stroke, he or she is predisposed to having it again in the future.

(Staff writer Rick Kron contributed to this article.)