The thick heat may zap your energy level and take your breath away, but it’s nothing new. The state is inundated with the same summer weather almost annually.
“This is summertime, this is stuff we see each and every summer,” said Scott Unger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham. “We grin and bear it until October when everything starts cooling down.”
But if it seems like people are talking about the heat more than before, it may be because they are. The weather service decreased the threshold for issuing heat advisories by three degrees this year to increase awareness about the dangers of heat.
“It’s a local thing, it’s not an agency thing,” Unger said. “(It’s) just to get awareness out there because (the heat is) dangerous.”
This summer the weather service has already issued more heat advisories than it did last year, according to Unger. The next one, he said, might be issued in the coming days if the heat index is at or above 106 degrees for two con-secutive days.
The dangers of the daily highs are exacerbated when nightly lows are up too and that’s expected to be the case through the middle of next week, Unger said. Through Wednesday the heat index might soar to 110, actual highs will hover just below 100 degrees and lows won’t drop below the mid-70s, according to a weather service forecast.
Unger said those conditions are particularly dangerous for people without air conditioning because they don’t get a break from the heat in the night hours. He also said that people who work outdoors, the elderly and pets are most likely to suffer from heat-related illnesses as the temperatures rise.
The two most common heat related illnesses are heat exhaustion and heat stroke, according to Michael Gaines, an urgent care physician at C.A.R.E.S. in Anniston. He said the two illnesses are related, but heat stroke is more serious.
Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature increases and perspiration stops. Without immediate medical care, the condition can be life-threatening.
Heat exhaustion is a precursor to heat stroke, Gaines said. It also occurs when the body overheats, but one of the major symptoms of the condition is perspiration accompanied by headaches, weakness, dizziness or stomach pain.
Gaines said heat exhaustion or heat stroke can occur to while doing normal outdoor activities such as gardening, or jogging. The risk for developing the condition increases when the temperature rises above 85 degrees and the hu-midity level is elevated.
To prevent the illnesses, he recommends drinking four ounces of water, or a sports drink, for every 15 minutes spent outdoors. He also recommended cooling off by spritzing the face with water, dampening cloths, resting in an air-conditioned room or by taking a cool or lukewarm shower.
He said to avoid hot or warm showers when at risk for overheating and to seek medical treatment immediately if heat stroke is suspected. Because some of the symptoms, such as headaches, are so common, the illnesses sometimes go undetected and treatment is delayed, he said.
“Most people will wait until they’ve been working several hours,” Gaines said. “That’s what you don’t want do.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-2344.