Health officials are reminding people to be safe as temperatures in The T&D Region hover near record levels.
"Make sure you are not outside for long times and that you have the ability to cool off," said Dr. Jack Colker, RMC Emergency Services medical director. "Avoid alcohol and things that will act like a water pill ... and make the situation worse."
Temperatures are abnormally warm in the region, leading to a rise in heat-related health problems. Orangeburg’s high temperature hit 100 on Tuesday.
"The RMC has seen an increase in heat-related complaints coming into its emergency department," RMC spokesman Delandous C. Haynes said. "Approximately eight to 12 individuals have presented with heat-related complaints including heat exhaustion, altered mental status and dehydration."
The majority of these patients have been elderly, according to Haynes.
Colker says when the weather gets this hot, the most important thing for individuals to do is to “stay hydrated by drinking water or a Gatorade equivalent.”
While a cool breeze feels good, it also increases the evaporation process and causes an individual to lose more water, Colker said.
Colker says symptoms of heat exhaustion and illness include a general feeling of illness such as headaches, nausea and weakness.
Thirst is one of the earliest signs of heat-related issues, which is why drinking water is crucial, Colker said.
Those most susceptible to heat-related illnesses are the elderly and the very young. Colker says individuals who are already ill or live in areas without air conditioning are also at risk.
Heat is on
The near-record heat has prompted the National Weather Service to issue a hazardous weather outlook and a special weather statement for the region.
The Orangeburg Municipal Airport has seen temperatures of 90 degrees and above since May 17, according to the NWS.
The high hit 100 on Tuesday. Wednesday’s high temperature is forecast to reach 101, with Thursday’s temperature dropping back to 99.
The all-time record high temperature for Orangeburg is 105 set on Aug. 1, 1999.
The hottest temperature ever set in Orangeburg for the month of May is 101 on May 25, 2000.
The average temperature for this time of year in Orangeburg is in the middle 80s, with lows in the low 60s, according to the NWS.
"There is a big dome of sinking air over us," NWS Hydro-Meteorological Technician Doug Anderson said. "We are seeing some indication that it may break down slightly Friday and Saturday."
Temperatures will cool off some heading into the weekend as the upper-level ridge begins to weaken somewhat and a weak cold front approaches.
Temperatures, however, will still be about 5 to 10 degrees above normal for this time of year.
Temperatures Friday through Monday are forecast to be in the middle 90s with nighttime lows around 70. There is no rain in the forecast.
Anderson said there are indications the region could get into a wetter and near-normal pattern by the end of the first week of June.
Early extreme temperatures are no indication that summer temperatures will be near records, Anderson said.
According to the NWS, June, July, and August temperatures are forecast to be slightly above normal and precipitation is forecast to be near normal.
High temperatures have coincided with dry conditions.
The Orangeburg airport has only seen 11.17 inches of rain so far this year, compared to the normal 17.13 inches through this time of the year.
Only 1.3 inches of rain have fallen at the airport in May. The average rainfall for the month is 3.53 inches, according to Anderson.
Orangeburg and Bamberg counties are in the earliest stage of drought, while Calhoun County is still considered to be normal, according to the S.C. Drought Response Committee's latest report.
The lack of rain has caused water levels at the North Fork of the Edisto River to fall to about 2.9 feet. According to NWS statistics, this is tied for the 21st lowest level the river has seen since 1952.
The lowest the North Fork has ever been was 0.87 feet in August 2002
The Congaree River at Carolina Eastman was at 104 feet Tuesday morning. The historic low is 100.4 feet set in August 2007.
The South Fork of the Edisto River in Bamberg was 6.95 feet. The record low level for the South Fork at this site was 5.20 feet set in July 2008.
The heat and drought are “really hammering our dryland corn," Calhoun County Clemson Extension Agent Charles Davis said. "It is costing us a bunch of money on irrigated corn. We have to keep the irrigation running more than we like."
Davis says the dry conditions pretty much guarantees a yield reduction on dryland corn this year.
"You can't have damage this early and not having an impact on yields," he said. "Quantifying that impact is difficult. We don't know how much longer it will last."
Davis says peanuts and cotton should be OK as they are currently too small and their water demands not great to be too harmed by the dry conditions.
Gary Schurlknight, owner of Edisto Heating and Air, said the business has seen a 20 percent increase in calls since the heat wave hit.
"This has been really almost dangerous heat," he said. "It is a little earlier than what we normally see."
Schurlknight said there are ways for people to ensure their systems are working properly.
"The biggest thing is to make sure your filters are changed," Schurlknight said. "If they are stopped-up filters, they don't breathe and can restrict air flow. Cold air is heavy and you have to push it harder. That is one of the biggest things a consumer can do."
Schurlknight also said it is also recommended individuals have their units checked at least once a year.
"It pays off," he said.
Forest fire danger
The heat combined with dry conditions means there is an enhanced fire threat through at least Thursday.
There were no forest fires reported in The T&D Region by the State Forestry Commission on Tuesday. There were 14 controlled or contained fires across the state and two -- one in Georgetown and one in Florence -- still active.
County forestry officials say there has been an uptick in forest fires over the past few weeks.
"We have had a bunch of little ones," S.C. Forestry Commission Fire Management Officer Wade Truesdale said. "The largest one recently was about five acres."
He said most fires are caused by debris burning.
"There is not a burning ban, but you just need to take extra precautions," he said. "Don't leave the fire unattended."
State law requires people to notify the Forestry Commission prior to burning outdoors. In most cases, the law applies to burning leaves, limbs and branches that you clean up from your yard. The notification law does not apply within town or city limits.
In addition to state laws regulating outdoor burning, there may be other local ordinances. Be sure to check before burning.