Heat can affect anyone.  However, it is more likely to affect young children, elderly people, and people with health problems.  For instance, people with a medical condition that causes poor blood circulation and those who take medications to get rid of water from the body (diuretics) or for certain skin conditions may be more susceptible.  Consult with a physician if you have any questions about how your medication may affect your ability to tolerate heat.

It is important to know the terms used to describe heat wave conditions.  They are:

Heat wave – prolonged period of excessive heat and humidity.

Heat Index – a number in degrees Fahrenheit that tells how hot it really feels when relative humidity is added to the actual air temperature.  Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Preparation for a heat wave is the best method for minimizing injury or illness during one.  Follow these important steps to prepare yourself and your family for a heat wave.

  • Purchase a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio with a battery backup and tone-alert feature.  A NOAA (pronounced "Noah") radio will automatically alert you when a Heat Wave Warning has been issued.  Also purchase a battery-powered commercial radio and extra batteries as well.
  • When temperatures become unbearably hot or a heat wave has been predicted for the City of Florence, listen to NOAA radio or local radio or television newscasts for the latest information and special instructions from local officials.
  • Learn community evacuation procedures and routes.  Determine where you would go and how you would get there if you needed to evacuate.  Keep you car fueled and in good condition in case evacuation is required.
  • Discuss with your family the safest and coolest places to be at home, at work, or at school.  These places are often the lowest floors in buildings or rooms that are air-conditioned.  Stay in these places as much as possible during the heat wave.
  • Have a large supply of bottled water and foods low in protein on hand.  Water is often a rare commodity during a heat wave.
  • Prepare for possible isolation in your home.  Purchase an air conditioner, even for just one room, and make sure your air conditioner has been properly serviced.  Once a heat wave begins, air conditioning vendors will be too busy to promptly install or service your air conditioner.  Also purchase and use electric fans in your home.
  • Consider the needs of young children, elderly persons, and people with health problems who live around you.  They will be most affected during a heat wave.
  • Have appropriate clothing for the weather.  Lightweight, light-colored clothing is best during hot weather.

If a heat wave is threatening the Florence area, the most important thing to do is listen for weather reports and emergency information on radio or television newscasts or NOAA Radio.  These emergency broadcasts will tell you what you need to do to prepare for the upcoming weather.

When working outside or traveling, dress for the weather.  Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.  Light colors will reflect away some of the sun's emergency.  Slow down your pace and avoid strenuous activity.  If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.  This will help you avoid heat-related illnesses, like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.  These conditions are characterized by pale or flushed skin, headache, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, a rapid or weak pulse, rapid shallow breathing, and exhaustion.

Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms, usually in the abdomen or legs, due to heavy exertion.  Heat exhaustion is a mild form of shock caused by a loss of body fluids through heavy sweating.  Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition where the temperature control system, which produces sweat to cool the body, stops working, causing the body temperature to rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.  In all cases, get the person out of the heat and into a cooler place.  Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths.  If the person is conscious, give cool water to drink every 15 minutes.  Make sure the person drinks slowly.  If the victim refuses water, is vomiting, or changes level of consciousness, do not give anything to eat or drink.  Call for emergency assistance immediately.

Stay indoors as much as possible during heat waves and use air conditioning.  If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor of your home, out of the sunshine.  Use electric fans – they do not cool the air, but they do help sweat evaporate, which cools your body.

Drink plenty of fluids regularly and often even if you do not feel thirsty.  Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies.  Your body needs water to keep cool.  Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them.  They can make you feel good briefly, but make the heat's effects on your body worse.  This is especially true about beer, which actually dehydrates the body.  Eat small meals and eat more often.  Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.  Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.

Stay tuned to the radio or television for information about the heat wave and what you should do.  For more information about heat waves and what to do when they occur, please call the Florence County Emergency Preparedness Department at 843-665-7255.