Archive for Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Heat’s on at Kansas Speedway

July 2, 2002

It may be a stretch but when it comes to preventing heat-related illnesses, anything is worth considering. My most vivid image from last year's July races at Kansas Speedway is this: Under the grandstand, slumped against tall pillars rested the wounded those suffering from the heat. Near one pillar a young boy lay on the concrete floor, his head on his mother's lap. She held a compress of wet paper towels to his forehead. His face flushed red and his skin appeared to be dry clearly he was suffering from the heat.

According to Jeff Strickler, nurse coordinator for the University of Kansas Medical Center's medical team at the Kansas Speedway, about 100 people sought medical care for heat-related symptoms.

And, according to area news reports, there were plenty of others who suffered from the heat but did not seek medical attention.

When driving by the speedway last week, I wondered if there were any factors, other than the obvious one such as shade, that could lower the temperature in a large outdoor athletic stadium. Is there anything else that could cool the air?

Say what about people? A person's normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. So wouldn't it stand to reason that a stadium full of about 100,000 98.6-degree-bodies on a 110-degree day might conceivably lower the air temperature?

Hmmmm. Sounds like wishful thinking. But let's check it out.

Curtis Hall, professor of atmospheric science in Kansas University's physics and astronomy department, said what you might expect:

"If you were in a closed arena of some kind, it would," Hall said. "But out in the open like that, I'm not saying it doesn't have an effect, but it's not measurable."

Since that hope is out, those attending this weekend's race at Kansas Speedway, or any other outdoor events when the weather is hot, need to be cautious.

When it comes to staying safe in the summertime, Strickler said, the best bet is to prevent dehydration. It's as crucial to know what beverages to drink, as well as how much, especially at an event where beer and soft drinks are readily available.

"With beer, the issue is it's cold and it feels good going down," Strickler said. "But the beverage itself is a diuretic. Alcohol is a diuretic it fools the body and makes you lose water."

It's the same with caffeine, also a diuretic, found in coffee and many soft drinks.

"Say someone has a couple of cups of coffee in the morning, then gets out there and drinks a couple of beers," Strickler said. "There's nothing worse you could do for your body."

When in the heat, the best beverage is water and plenty of it, Strickler said.

"A lot of people don't realize how much fluid they need to drink," Strickler said. "You need at least 500 cc's to a liter of water every hour when it's that hot and you're out there sweating and losing fluid."

Bottled water is available at speedway food stands.

"They're allowing people to refill those bottles with water from the water fountains," Strickler said.

Other heat-survival tips include wearing light-colored loose-fitting cotton clothing. And, to avoid a sunburn, wear a hat and use sunscreen.

Speedway-goers can also cool off by taking a walk through areas where sprinkler heads spray a fine mist.

So, whatever else, it's important to remember these tips now that we know that, when it comes to sunshine on a hot summer day, there's no safety in numbers.

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