On Monday, Beaufort County hit its 40th day of 90-plus-degree temperatures and spiking heat-related illnesses, leaving residents with one question: When will it stop?
The answer: Not for another week.
Dr. Chip Fowlkes, a Coastal Carolina Hospital emergency room physician, said he is seeing about three people with a heat-related illness on every 12-hour shift he works. He said that number is nearly double what he saw last year. Many of the cases involve people working in landscaping or construction jobs, he said.
“If you start feeling light-headed, flushed or short of breath, you have to stop immediately and cool off,” Fowlkes said. He said heat illness can strike in as short a time as 10 minutes.
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If temperatures continue to surge as predicted this week, the summer could go into the record books as having the second longest run of red-hot weather since 1871, National Weather Service meteorologist Emily Timte said Monday. The current second-place holder is 44 days; the record-setting stretch was 60 days.
This July already has earned its place as the second hottest month the region has ever seen with an average temperature of 86.1 degrees, Timte said. The record was set in July 1993 with an average of 86.7 degrees. July’s average is typically about 82.6 degrees.
Those venturing out into the heat should hydrate with water at least an hour before doing so, Fowlkes said.
“Everyone has this ‘I’m OK’ attitude,” Fowlkes said. “Heat exhaustion can happen to anyone.”
Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke, a condition that causes confusion and seizures as the brain overheats, Fowlkes said. He said the results can be deadly.
Dr. Kevin Kremer, Beaufort Memorial Hospital emergency room director, said people should seek emergency room attention with any severe headache, dizziness, fainting or a lack of sweating.
“We cool them off with cooling blankets and provide IV hydration,” Kremer said.
Beaufort Memorial is seeing about three to four patients a day for heat-related illnesses, Kremer said. He said hospital staff haven’t noticed any unusual upticks in illnesses since the heat wave started in June.
Beachgoers also are facing difficulty in the heat, Mike Wagner, Hilton Head Island Shore Beach Services operations manager.
“Most of the cases, we end up having to call EMS,” Wagner said. “The biggest thing we see is people passing out.”
From June 1 to June 29, there were 74 heat exhaustion cases on Hilton Head beaches, Wagner said. He said there were 48 cases over the same time period in 2015.
Lydia Hill, Hilton Head Hospital public relations manager, said the hospital treated 44 heat-related illnesses in July. She was unable to provide an immediate comparison to last year.
Timte said July was a historic month for more than just heat. She said it is the second-driest July on record for the region. With about 1.21 inches of rain, it came in second only to July 1888, which saw 0.82 inches. July’s average typically is 5.60 inches.