Health officials urge caution as feels-like temperatures hit triple-digits

Michael Perchick Image
Wednesday, June 26, 2024
Health officials urge caution as heat hits dangerous levels
It took only 20 minutes for Joeseph Bryant to feel the effects of the heat while walking at Pullen Park on Wednesday.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It took only 20 minutes for Joeseph Bryant to feel the effects of the heat while walking at Pullen Park on Wednesday afternoon.

"I was just in my car and I have really cold A/C. And then as soon as I got out here, I'm all sweaty and stuff," Bryant said.

SEE ALSO | Raleigh hits record-breaking 103 degrees on Wednesday

Pullen Park was largely quiet in the early afternoon, as families avoided the sweltering temperatures.

"We are on our 14th day over 90 (degrees) here in Raleigh, which normally that's something we would see in July or August," State Climatologist Dr. Kathie Dello said.

"Young children have a very high body surface area related to their weight as compared to adults. So they lose fluid a lot more readily than a healthy adult would. And then on the other end of the spectrum, you have the elderly or patients with chronic medical conditions that are just vulnerable to everything, but especially to heat," said Dr. Daniel Park, Medical Director at UNC Pediatric Emergency Department.

Park said UNC has already seen cases of heat-related illness, as has WakeMed. A spokesperson for WakeMed said through Monday, 43 patients had been treated for heat-related illness across their emergency rooms, compared to 31 patients in June 2023.

The extreme heat is taking a toll on people and automobiles alike.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion, including muscle cramping and dizziness, are reversible if quickly addressed. However, if left untreated, it can progress to heat stroke, which is when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees and medical attention is necessary.

"Just because you're a young, healthy adult does not mean you are invincible to heat related illness," Park said.

Dello explains not only is the heat hitting earlier in the year, it's lasting longer through the day.

"We tend to think about the daytime, these 96-degree days, but it was 78 degrees Fahrenheit overnight on Sunday night. And that's really, really warm. If you don't have air conditioning and you've been outside all day, it can be really tough on your body," said Dello.

If you are outside, you should wear light colors and loose fitting clothing, apply sunscreen, and avoid long periods of time in direct sunlight.

"Pre-hydrate, continuously drink water. If you're walking outside, the general rule is a cup or eight ounces every 20 minutes," said Park.

Sweat is how the body cools itself off, but also causes it to lose electrolytes like sodium and chloride. While sports drinks can help replenish electrolytes, it's important to read nutritional labels and avoid too much sugar.

"You can soak your feet. You can go home and take a shower to cool down your body, eat your dinner earlier, avoid alcohol. So there are things that you can do to help yourself out in the heat," said Dello.

While energy costs can be a point of consideration, Park stresses the importance of utilizing air conditioning.

"People have a false perception that fans are helpful. When the heat index is very high -- in triple digits -- the fan is just going to blow hot air around. So you have to find air conditioning," said Park.

Outside of immediate actions, such as opening cooling centers, Dello said infrastructure adjustments can have a long-term impact.

"What we can do is add greenery to neighborhoods and that really does cool down the temperature. We can think about how we're building things. Black surfaces reflect a lot of heat. We know that we don't wear black t-shirts on hot days. We can use white or reflective roofs or surfaces to try to bring that temperature down," said Dello.

Trees are an essential solution to "urban heat islands"

Park emphasized parents to double-check before leaving their vehicles, in an effort to prevent any tragedies involving kids or pets. According to Kids and Car Safety, on average, 38 children die in hot cars each year.

"One of the things we try to tell parents is that if you have a young child in the car, keep a stuffed animal into the car seat. And when you buckle your child up in the car seat, bring that stuffed animal up into the front seat so you don't forget that someone is buckled in in the back. These are unspeakable tragedies that we've seen, but hopefully preventable," said Park.