The heat is on: Study probes Charleston’s ‘heat islands,’ hot weather’s impact
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Holy City is investigating how heat builds up across the city and what can be done to ease its impact as it marks Heat Safety Week.
The city of Charleston is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, MUSC, The Citadel, the University of South Carolina for a pilot program. It shows there are “heat islands” in the city where very little tree canopy leads to heat building up in certain parts of the city more than in others, creating a difference of up to 12 degrees.
Dale Morris, Charleston’s chief resilience officer, says areas near the port on the East Side, Union Pier Terminal, Columbus Terminal, around Burke High School, the ball fields and some parts of The Citadel are considered “heat islands.”
“We’re trying to understand in the city, what do we need to do about this given the residents we have who may not have air conditioning,” Morris said. “Our workers, the tourists that come here, whether their visiting friends from Toronto or Vancouver or the UK and they’re not used to this heat we need to start to understand how this increased heat is gonna impact them and what we need to do to prepare for it.”
Gov. Henry McMaster issued a proclamation setting the week of May 15 as South Carolina Heat Safety Week. The purpose of Heat Safety Week is to remind people that heat can be more than an uncomfortable side effect of late spring and summertime. Heat can cause life-threatening illnesses.
The National Weather Service says heat cramps may be the first sign of such illness and may lead to more serious conditions like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Symptoms of heat cramps include painful muscle cramps and spasms, usually in the legs and the abdomen, and heavy sweating. First aid options should include firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage to relieve spasms and giving sips of water unless the person complains of nausea. Anyone experiencing such symptoms for an hour or more should seek medical attention.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness or tiredness; cool, pale, clammy skin; a fast or weak pulse, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting; a headache or fainting. Anyone experiencing those symptoms should be moved into a cooler environment, preferably a well-air-conditioned room. Clothing should be loosened and cool, wet cloths should be applied. Sitting in a cool bath may also help. Medical attention should be sought if the person vomits or if symptoms last longer than an hour.
The symptoms of a heat stroke include a throbbing headache, confusion, nausea, dizziness, a body temperature above 103°F, hot, red, dry or damp skin, rapid and strong pulse, fainting, and loss of consciousness. A heat stroke is a medical emergency that can be fatal: if you see someone suffering signs of a heat stroke, you should call 911 or get the victim to a hospital immediately.
Morris says the study will provide opportunities to understand which building materials reflect more heat, how to orient them differently so they pick up more breezes and to create more trees and shading for student-athletes as well as future playgrounds for kids.
“Different types of grass and the extent of the grass versus artificial turf, they absorb heat differently,” Morris said. “So, we need to understand that better so our student-athletes that are practicing football in the summer or practicing track in the spring and fall that they don’t have these problems.”
Morris says they plan to present the research on heat deserts to the public within the coming weeks so they can ask questions and offer solutions on how to become a more heat-sensitive city.
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