Area prepares for extended heat wave


Emergency officials were preparing mid-week for an anticipated spike in the heat wave that hit the area early this week, with temperatures expected to be at or above 100 degrees Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 21-23. They were urging residents and visitors alike to monitor the weather and take precautions for their health and safety.

The impact of the current heat wave was expected to intensify in the region starting Thursday, July 21. According to the National Weather Service, Friday, July 22, looks like it will be the “hottest” day.

Heat index values (a measure of the combination of temperature and humidity) were expected to approach a maximum of 105 degrees on Thursday and 110 degrees on Friday, they said. The highest values will be experienced in highly urbanized areas. Overnight low temperatures may not drop below 80 in those areas.

Officials noted that there was some uncertainty regarding high temperatures on Saturday, July 23, and Sunday, July 24, as a cold front may approach the region. However, maximum heat index values may again exceed 105 on Saturday and Sunday, they said.

According to the National Weather Service, heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the United States. People of all ages are susceptible to heat-related illness and life-threatening conditions, but infants and small children and elderly persons are often at higher risk, officials warned.

Sussex County officials have again designated county libraries as cooling stations, offering a respite from the heat for those who don’t have access to another air-conditioned space.

The cooling stations include the County Administration Building, at 2 The Circle in Georgetown, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., Monday through Friday; and South Coastal Library at 43 Kent Avenue in Bethany Beach, between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 1 and 5 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday; as well as the Milton Library and Greenwood Library.

Sussex County paramedics make routine stops at cooling station locations, as time permits, to answer any heat-related questions and/or concerns. Free individual servings of bottled water are also available at the County Administration Building. County officials asked that, when visiting a relief station, people bring with them any medications and/or specialty items that they need.

Residents and visitors urged to take precautions

Officials said actions that help in avoiding heat-related health issues include drinking plenty of water, staying out of the sun and remaining in an air-conditioned location whenever possible. Residents and visitors were being urged to limit exposure outside during the heat wave, particularly during the hottest part of the day – roughly 1-6 p.m. Those who must be outside should take frequent breaks, and drink plenty of water.

“High body temperatures and dehydration will make other medical conditions, such as heart and breathing problems much worse,” said Sussex County Emergency Medical Services Director Robert Stuart. “It is very important to stay cool and hydrated when the heat index reaches these dangerous levels.”

Delaware Emergency Management Agency Director Jamie Turner said, “Listen to local media for updates on cooling stations or facilities that might open for use by the public. It’s also a good time to look out for others. Be sure to check on elderly relatives and neighbors. Make sure you keep your pets in a cool location with plenty of water available.”

No one – especially children, the elderly and pets – should remain in a parked car during periods of moderate to extreme heat, officials noted. Even with windows open for ventilation, extremely high temperature develops in a very short period of time. According to the National Weather Service, tests show that with an outside temperature of just 80 degrees, the thermometer in a parked car can rise to a reading of 123 degrees F. in less than an hour. In just over two minutes, the car can go from a safe temperature to 94.3 degree F.

State emergency officials warned that, if you must work or spend time outside, you should take extra precautions. When possible, reschedule strenuous activities for the early morning or late evening hours. Wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing when possible. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

To reduce risk when working outdoors, it is recommended that frequent rest breaks in a shaded or air-conditioned environment are scheduled. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency, and those dealing with possible heat stroke should call 911 for assistance.

Signs of heat cramps can include muscular pains and spasms from heavy exertion. Resting in a cooler area, taking occasional sips of water and stretching the muscle mildly can counter the effects of heat cramps.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are much more serious, and may require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include a pale or flushed appearance, as well as headache and nausea. Heat stroke symptoms include rapidly increased body temperature, loss of consciousness, rapid or weak pulse and rapid, shallow breathing.

Additionally, officials said alcoholic beverages should be avoided during exposure to extremely hot weather and caffeinated beverages should be limited.

Children and hot cars don’t mix

Officials also noted that special precautions should be taken with child and car safety during extreme heat.

“It’s important to remember that temperatures inside a car on a day with outside temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s can quickly soar to nearly 200 degrees, which is hot enough to cook many foods and to kill most living things. Never leave children or pets in a parked car,” said Jim Lardear, director of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “If you do see a child or pet locked in a car and cannot find the owner of the vehicle, call 911 immediately.”

According to research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the risk of serious injury or death during hot weather is heightened for children left alone in vehicles. Heat stroke, which is a form of hyperthermia, is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths for children under the age of 14. NHTSA reports at least 27 documented deaths per year.

“Every summer children die in overheated cars and sometime even playing in their trunks,” said Sean M. Elwell, chair of the Safe Kids Delaware Board of Directors. “Parents need to watch their children closely around vehicles, particularly when loading and unloading. Make sure all children leave the car when you reach your destination – especially infants sleeping in car seats.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic and NHTSA offered the following safety tips:

• Never leave a child alone in a car – even with the windows partially opened – as a vehicle’s interior can still heat up quickly to deadly temperatures.

• Do not leave your children in a running vehicle with the air conditioner on even for a few minutes; your child may put the car into drive or even get caught in a closing power window, not to mention that you increase the risk of your car being hijacked and your child abducted.

• Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away. Children have died because they fell asleep in their car seats and their parents didn’t realize they were still in the car.

• If your spouse or a guardian is taking your children to daycare, ask him or her to call you to make sure the drop-off went according to plan.

• Do things to remind yourself that a child is in the vehicle: leave a written note in your vehicle where you will see it as you leave the vehicle, such as on the dashboard area; place your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat where your child is seated so that you will have to check that area when you leave the vehicle; keep an object in your child’s car seat, such as a stuffed toy, and when the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when leaving the vehicle, as a reminder that a child is in the back seat.

• Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle – teach them that a car is not a play area; always lock your car doors and keep car keys out of children’s reach.

Because temperatures inside parked cars can quickly reach dangerous levels, AAA Mid-Atlantic offers the following additional advice:

• When parked, use a sun shield to cover the windshield to minimize heat buildup and to help protect the car’s interior. Cover metal and plastic parts on seat belts and child safety seats to prevent burns.

• Consider purchasing window shades for both the front and rear windows of the car.

If a child has spent a prolonged amount of time in a hot vehicle and appears to be showing signs of heat distress, call 911 immediately for medical assistance. Cool the child as quickly as possible by applying cool water to the skin and/or ice packs under the armpits and groin area while waiting for help.

NHTSA offers additional tips on keeping children safe at www.nhtsa.gov/KeepingKidsSafe.

Officials urge conservation

Due to the higher temperatures and humidity expected in the area over the next couple of days, demand for electricity is also expected to increase. In an effort to reduce costs and avoid power shortages, the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center has asked all residents and business operators in the county to help conserve power to avoid outages during extreme heat.

“With a heat wave comes high demand for electricity. By helping conserve power, you can do your individual part in helping prevent black outs in the area,” said Joseph L. Thomas, director of the EOC.

You can help in the conservation of electricity by taking the following steps:

• Set air conditioners to 80 degrees, or use fans instead, and minimize the opening of refrigerators and freezers;

• Limit the use of electric water heaters and turn off non-essential appliances and lights;

• Delay using high-energy appliances, such as washing machines and dryers, until after 8 p.m.;

• Prepare light summer meals that require minimal, if any, cooking. Try using an outdoor grill or microwave oven instead of an electric range;

• Keep window shades, blinds, or drapes closed to block the sunlight during the hottest portion of the day;

• Move lamps, TVs and other heat sources away from air conditioner thermostats. Heat from those appliances is sensed by the thermostat and could cause an air conditioner to run longer than necessary;

Businesses can conserve electricity by raising thermostats and turning off unnecessary lighting and equipment.

For more information on the weather situation, call the Sussex County EOC and Sussex County EMS at (302) 855-7801 (EOC) or (302) 854-5050 (EMS). For additional safety and preparedness information visit: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/heat/index.shtml.