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The Heat Is On! Take Precautions

National Weather Service

As heat advisories continue to be issued in northwest Florida, officials are recommending people take precautions to avoid health issues.

One doesn’t need to be a metrological genius to realize that over the past week or so it’s been hot. I mean really hot. “I was just looking at Weather Underground, and it calls for a maximum of 90 degrees today, which is less than it has been over the past few days. But the heat index was 108 but now it’s 106” said Dr. John Lanza, director and health officer of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County talking about the Heat Index. That’s a measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored with the air temperature. It’s the summertime version of the wind-chill factor. And lately, it’s been very high. That means people who spend time outdoors need to be careful. “They need to stay hydrated. And that’s a good mantra for anyone who is outside. Even if you’re outside for recreational purposes, if you’re at the beach or whatever, you need to stay hydrated, in the shade, (and you need to) wear appropriate clothing if you have to be out.”

By “appropriate clothing” Dr. Lanza means loose-fitting clothes and a hat that provides protection from the sun. He also suggests people working outside wear sun screen and take frequent breaks in a shady or air-conditioned space as long as the heat advisories remain in effect.

As far as the heat index goes, our little corner of Florida seems to be the steamiest. “Yes, it is the highest in the state” said Megan Borowski, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. “This is the time of year that we would expect heat indices to be high. However the average heat index for Escambia County is about 96 degrees. So you guys are trending 10 degrees above normal for your heat index value."

So far this month the temperature in Pensacola has reached as high as 97. Heat indices have reached between 110 and 118. But it does look like some relief is in sight. “There’s a cold front approaching from the northwest and it’s set to just sag into the Southeast." said Borowski. "I don’t know if it’s going to reach as far south as Florida, but (the region) is going to be getting increased showers and thunderstorms over the next several days. So that increased cloud cover and the rain should cool you down.”

But it’s still August, and the cool down doesn’t mean the danger of hotter temperatures should be ignored. According to Dr. John Lanza, the risks range from a simple heat rash or prickly heat that is most common in young children, to more serious issues like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. “Heat exhaustion just means heavy sweating, the skin is cold and pale and clammy, so the opposite of what you’d think. You have a fast pulse, you may have some nausea and vomiting. With heat stroke you have a very high body temperature, around 103 Fahrenheit; hot, red, dry or damp skin. You’ve got the nausea, you’ve got confusion, maybe loss of consciousness, passing out. That’s the time, for that last group of symptoms, to call 911 and to get the person into a medical facility as close as possible. Because you can die from that.”

And while Dr. Lanza says staying hydrated is important, he suggests staying away from making adult beverages the fluids of choice. “Alcohol, in medical terms, is a diuretic. Which means that you lose the fluids that you need to stay hydrated. So, the best thing is water. Lots of it. At least a gallon, plus. Alcohol in any form, beer, whatever, anything with alcohol is not the way to go when you’re out and about. What you do at night, when it’s cool, in a restaurant or whatever, that’s up to you.”

Even if we do get some relief from the heat over the next few days this information is something people should remember. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on planet Earth since record taking began in 1880.