Think tornadoes and hurricanes are deadly? They’re no match for extreme heat, which is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S., killing hundreds of people every year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Maine is having a toasty summer this year, with a stretch of temperatures above 90 and high humidity. A hazardous weather outlook has been issued by NOAA, with high humidity expected to bring heat indices to more than 100 degrees Friday in southern New Hampshire and southwest Maine.

The current heat wave is expected to break Saturday night, according to the NOAA forecast, with temperatures in the upper 70s next week.

In the meantime, locals are making changes to stay safe in the heat.

Kevin Lombard, recreation program director for Saco Parks and Recreation, said Wednesday that the weather is a huge factor in how schedules are arranged for day campers, whether it’s rain or high heat.

“We adjust as we need to,” he said, based not only on weather advisories and temperatures but also on the “general feel of the camp.”

Each location of the various summer day camp programs has shaded areas, and the schools tend to remain cool inside, he said.

“We are hoping our beach days are falling on these great days,” he said, and if not, campers enjoy reading time in the shade and high-impact activities are shortened.

“We’re constantly taking kids on water runs,” he said, and looking out for signs of heat exhaustion.

McArthur Public Library Director Jeff Cabral said traffic has been higher than usual at the air-conditioned library last week and this week. The library is popular during the summer regardless of the weather, he said, due to several summer reading programs for children, but visitors have increased from the average 300 to 400 per day to more than 500 on the hottest days.

“We definitely see this every summer,” he said. “We like the fact that we can be a place where everyone can come in and cool off for a bit.”

New this year are air conditioning units in the library’s community room, said Cabral ”“ an investment that was made to allow more use of the space during the hottest days.

In Sanford, the Louis B. Goodall Memorial Library is serving as a cooling center as well, and has posted a sign inviting patrons to come inside and cool off with a book.

The hot weather has also been good for business at water parks and beachfronts.

“When the sun is out, people flock to their local water park,” said Ed Hodgdon, Funtown Splashtown USA spokesman. “We have seen great attendance.”

It’s not as fun for those who have to work outdoors in the heat, but Biddeford Public Works Director Guy Casavant said his department modifies its operations to keep workers as comfortable as possible.

“Our expectations of how much they’ll be able to get done is lowered” on high heat days, he said this morning. “We allow them to take more rest breaks in the shade than on a normal weather day, and we do bring them ice water.”

Casavant said he also tries to reschedule the most intensive labor for days that are not as hot, whenever possible.

“It’s a very high priority for us to make sure our people are taken care of,” he said.

Whether indoors or out, staying safe in the heat starts with keeping a lookout for NOAA weather watches, warnings and advisories. The warning levels are based on a heat index, based on how hot it feels when humidity is factored in with the actual air temperature.

According to NOAA, heat-related illnesses occur when people lose too much fluid through dehydration or sweating, and body temperature rises too quickly. The severity of heat disorders tend to increase with age, according to NOAA, so it’s particularly important for seniors to keep cool in the summer months.

Negative reactions to heat include three levels: Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat cramps usually begin in the muscles of the legs and abdomen, accompanied by heavy sweating. Water is suggested.

Heat exhaustion entails heavy sweating, weakness, fainting and vomiting. Water and cooling cloths and air conditioning are recommended.

Heat stroke rises to the level of medical emergency and is marked by high body temperature, rapid pulse and unconsciousness. It can be fatal.

Here are a few heat safety tips provided by NOAA:

Ӣ Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.

Ӣ Reduce or reschedule strenuous activities until the coolest part of the day.

Ӣ Eat light and drink plenty of water. Avoid proteins that increase heat production inside of your body, and avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Ӣ Children and animals should never be left in a car during the summer months, as the interior heats up very quickly to dangerous temperatures. For example, on an 80-degree day, a vehicle can reach 99 degrees inside within only 10 minutes.

Ӣ Avoid sunburns and spend some time in air conditioning during the hottest part of the day. Those who do not have a unit at home are encouraged to go to public places or stores with air conditioning, such as libraries or malls.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests similar measures, adding that people keep their windows closed against the sun and check in frequently on pets and neighbors during heat waves.

  The NOAA brochure “Heat Wave: A Major Summer Killer” is available online at www.nws.noaa.gov/om/brochures/heat_wave.htm.

— Kristen Schulze Muszynski can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 322 or [email protected].



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