Whitesburg KY

Dog Days of summer can be brutal

Summertime can be brutal sometimes. Especially true for some of the residents of eastern Kentucky where air conditioning is not available, summertime can turn deadly. Summer heat combined with high humidity can feel utterly unbearable. It is the dog days of summer.

We all know the dog days of summer as the hottest and muggiest part of the season. A quick look in Webster defines dog days as: 1) the period between early July and early September when the hot, sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere; 2) a period of stagnation or inactivity.

But where does the term come from? Why do we call the hot, sultry days of summer “dog days?” The brightest of the stars in the constellation Canis Major (the big dog) is Sirius, which also happens to be the brightest star in the night sky of the summertime. In fact, it is so bright the ancient Romans thought the earth received heat from it. During late July Sirius is in conjunction with the sun, and the ancients believed its heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of hot and sultry weather. They named this period of time, from 20 days before the conjunction to 20 days after, “dog days” after the Dog Star.

During an average year, 175 people succumb to heat in the United States. In the disastrous heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died. The heat wave of July 1995 caused 600 deaths in the Chicago inner city alone, which marked the greatest heatrelated disaster in the United States. In Europe, the scorching summer of 2003 equates to devastation, as more than 50,000 people succumbed across the continent, with the majority, nearly 35,000 deaths, in France. These are the direct casualties. No one can know how many more deaths are advanced by heat wave weather, as diseased or aging organs surrender to the heat stress that under better conditions would have continued to function.

Considering this tragic death toll, the National Weather Service (NWS) has stepped up its efforts to alert more effectively the general public and appropriate authorities to the hazards of heat waves – those prolonged excessive heat/humidity episodes. The NWS will issue heat advisories and warnings to advise people extreme heat is expected. Based on the latest research findings, the weather service has devised the “Heat Index”. The Heat Index, given in degrees F, is an accurate measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is combined with the actual air temperature.

For eastern Kentucky, a heat advisory will be issued for a reading of 105 degrees or higher for at least three hours or more, with a minimum Heat Index around 75 degrees during a 24-hour period. An excessive heat warning will be issued for 110 degrees or higher for three hours or longer, with a minimum Heat Index of 75 degrees during a 24-hour period.

But it does not have to reach the warning or advisory stage for heat to take a toll on people outdoors, especially when they are working. Heat is a killer. Heat kills by taxing the human body beyond its abilities. In a normal year, about 175 Americans succumb to the demands of summer heat.

Heat disorder symptoms include:

• Sunburn: Redness and pain. In severe cases swelling of skin, blisters, fever, and headaches. First aid: Ointments for mild cases if blisters appear and do not break. If breaking occurs, apply dry sterile dressing. A physician should see serious, or extensive cases.

• Heat cramps: Painful spasms usually in muscles of legs and abdomen possible. Heavy sweating. First aid: Firm pressure on cramping muscles, or gentle massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue use.

• Heat exhaustion: Heavy sweating, weakness, skin cold, pale and clammy. Pulse thready. A normal body temperature is possible. Fainting and vomiting is likely. First aid: Get victim out of sun. Lie down and loosen clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to air-conditioned room. Sips of water should be given. If nausea occurs, discontinue use. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention.

• Heat stroke (or sunstroke): High body temperature (106 degrees F. or higher). Hot dry skin. There will be a rapid and strong pulse. Possible unconsciousness. First aid: Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. Summon emergency medical assistance or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal. Move the victim to a cooler environment Reduce body temperature with cold bath or sponging. Use extreme caution. Remove clothing, use fans and air conditioners. If temperature rises again, repeat process. Do not give fluids.

For additional information, contact the American Red Cross or check the NWS Weather Safety Internet page at http:// www.weather.gov/om/heat/ index.shtml.

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