Historic heat wave blasts Tennessee, South

Andrew Alexander

The National Weather Service (NWS) out of Memphis predicted heat indices well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit throughout last week and into the middle of this week with very low chances of precipitation or cooler weather.

With record temperatures in the mid to upper 90s and relative humidity climbing above 60 percent, the heat index has hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, validating the NWS’s predictions.

West Tennessee saw records broken Friday and Saturday in Memphis with the actual temperature touching 99 degrees, and the heat index over 100 for the majority of the end of last week and on through to the middle of this week with no relief in sight. 

While it might be thought that flooding, tornadoes, and hurricanes are the deadliest weather related killers, the NWS warns that heat tops the list in America.

Statistics compiled by the NWS states that between 2000 and 2009, an average of 162 lives per year were lost to scorching temperatures, as opposed to the 117 lives lost to hurricanes, the 65 lives lost to flooding, the 62 lives lost to tornadoes, and the 48 lives that were lost to lightning strikes.

So, the threat of the heat index being above 100 F is no laughing matter, and has the potential to be quite dangerous for children, the elderly citizens of our community, and outdoor workers.

The Deputy State Epidemiologist for the Tennessee Department of Health, Dr. John Dunn, states that symptoms for heat related illnesses can lead to heat stroke and include dizziness, cramps, excessive sweating, rapid heart beat, cold chills, clammy skin, nausea and headaches.

These symptoms, according to  Dunn, can be combated in several ways.

“Staying hydrated is extremely important,” said Dunn. 

Water is good, but, “it is important to replenish salts and minerals that escape the body through sweating, so sports drinks like Gatorade help this matter.”

Other tips Dunn stressed for beating the heat include dressing lightly, wearing a hat to shade your head, managing schedules in a way that keeps individuals from working in intense heat, and not over-exerting one’s self if one has to work in extremely hot conditions by taking breaks regularly.

Since the summer has not officially begun, it may be safe to assume that the heat wave we have been experiencing will not be our last.

This week’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-90s through Saturday, with a 30 percent chance of precipitation on Thursday and increased chances of scattered thunderstorms over the weekend.

The Farmer’s Almanac says that the U.S. can get ready for extreme heat and humidity, especially in Southern and Eastern states during the summer of 2011, and that extreme heat will be the predominant condition carrying on into the month of August. 

McNairy County Emergency Management Agency director Rudy Moore said, “If there is a need, there are shelters for folks without air conditioning.”

According to Moore, the Selmer Civic Center has provided shelter for disaster relief situations in the past, and is available for individuals whose homes cannot provide relief from the heat if they need food, water, fans, showers, and a cool building to stay in while the temperatures are soaring.

Moore encourages the community to check in on elderly neighbors, and for parents to keep a close eye on infants and younger children as a means of preventing heat related illnesses, and even death from occurring.