Parched throats, sizzling asphalt among many dangers from excessive heat

As the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for this weekend while forecasting a Sunday temperature –– 117 degrees –– that would tie the highest reading ever recorded in Southern Nevada, University Medical Center trauma and burn specialist Dr. Jay Coates issued his own warning: If you don’t want second-degree burns, don’t run across an asphalt parking lot or street barefoot.

Relative newcomers to Las Vegas don’t have a good idea of what the desert heat can do, he said Wednesday.

Temperatures of asphalt, a road construction surface that absorbs heat, can hit 200 degrees in a Las Vegas summer.

“I just released a guy from the hospital a couple of weeks ago who tried to make it across a parking lot in his bare feet earlier this summer,” Coates said. “We had to do skin grafts on him and they’re not easy to take on the bottom of the feet. If people try that now, it can only be worse.”

Chances are excellent that warnings from both meteorologists and physicians will be commonplace as record-breaking heat waves continue to roll through the Las Vegas Valley. Both sets of professionals say the best place to be this weekend is in an air-conditioned facility

“We are expecting excessive heat from Friday to Monday with a chance it could be extended further,” said Reid Wolcott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “This could be prolonged and become an historic heat event for the entire region as a high-pressure system impacts much of the western United States. People must be careful.”

If you’re in the heat, “you must be hydrated with water and wear light, loose-fitting clothing or risk heat-related illness,” said Dr. Dale Carrison, head of UMC emergency. He added that drinks such as Gatorade replace key electrolytes, but warned people against downing caffeinated beverages such as coffee, Coke and energy drinks, which all increase dehydration. So does alcohol.

Wolcott said some forecasting models show the temperature reaching 110 degrees Thursday, 114 on Friday, 116 on Saturday and 117 on Sunday, with a gradual lowering to 115 degrees on Monday and 113 on Tuesday. “But the models are not agreeing and the heat wave could be prolonged,” he said.

According to Wolcott, the records for June 28-30 are 115 degrees each day, set in 1994, with 116 degrees the record high for July 1, set in 1972.

“The big news, of course, is that a temperature of 117 would tie the record high for any month,” he said.

It was 117 degrees on both July 24, 1942, and July 19, 2005. It has been 116 degrees in Las Vegas well more than a dozen times.

To help people cope with the high temperatures, 13 cooling stations will be open in the Las Vegas Valley.

Unfortunately, Wolcott said, people can’t expect much relief at night.

“It may not cool beyond 90,” he said.

Mark Severts, a spokesman for NV Energy, said the utility has seven generating plants in the Las Vegas area “up and on line” that should be able to “meet the needs of customers” who are running air conditioners 24 hours a day.

A power outage near Carey Avenue and Nellis Boulevard left 9,000 customers without power briefly on Wednesday afternoon. NV Energy said the outage was likely heat-related.

Carrison said that because of Southern Nevada’s desert climate “you’re perspiring but don’t notice. Just breathing in and out you’re losing fluid ... by the time you’re thirsty you’re already dehydrated.”

Heat-related illness often begins with headache and cramping, Carrison noted. Spasms are possible in the legs and abdomen.

To relieve the problem, it is best to put firm pressure on the cramping muscles or massage gently to relieve spasms. Sip water.

Signs of heat exhaustion, Carrison said, are weakness, headache, abdominal cramps and nausea.

When you urinate, the stream is dark. At this stage, he added, there is no need to get medical attention. “Get inside and keep cool. Drink water frequently, but not all at once.”

An individual with a high body temperature, rapid and strong pulse and possible unconsciousness is probably suffering heatstroke and must be seen by professionals as soon as possible, Carrison said. “You can die from heatstroke.”

MountainView Hospital emergency physician Dr. Clarence Dunagan said a simple fall by a child on a sidewalk or crossing an asphalt street can result in the little one being so badly burned that transport to the UMC Burn Center is necessary.

Older people and the very young are at greatest risk of heat-related illness, he said.

Dunagan said people fairly new to Las Vegas may be used to locking their children in the car as they go to pay for gasoline.

“You can’t do that here,” he said. “The temperature quickly goes to more than 180 degrees and then you’re in real trouble.”

Those who must jog or bike should do so before the sun comes up or after it goes down, Dunagan said. Sunburn can be avoided with a wide hat and lotion.

Even police must be careful with those they arrest, burn specialist Coates said.

“If you put someone face down on the street, they’re going to get burned,” he stressed. “You have to take them to the grass..

He said Good Samaritans who see someone wandering around in a daze after an auto accident should not suggest to the accident victim that he sit down on the street. “Get him to sit down on the grass,” he said.

Coates recalled how UMC had to care for a homeless man who was found face down on the pavement in 2011.

“It was a 110-degree day and he was badly burned,” he said. “It cost us more than a million dollars to care for him. The Las Vegas heat can do real damage.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.