Too darn HOT

2015-08-07 09:38
Drenched with sweat, Witness reporter Chelsea Pieterse climbs out after an hour and 15 minutes.

Drenched with sweat, Witness reporter Chelsea Pieterse climbs out after an hour and 15 minutes. (Ian Carbutt)

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IT took just 45 minutes yesterday for the temperature inside the car to rise to double that of outside.

It was a cool 18 degrees Celsius outside at 10.30 am when the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s agrometeorology department began setting up their equipment in agrometeorology professor Michael Savage’s car.

Recording the inside temperature of the car at 17,6 degrees, I was made to sit inside the car fully equipped with temperature gauges whilst ER24 paramedics checked my vital signs.

After I was given the go-ahead from ER24, the car doors were closed, windows were rolled up and the clock started ticking on the countdown to trying to spend two hours locked in a car.

As it was a chilly winter’s day, I was bundled up in a jersey and scarf but after just five minutes locked in the car, the jersey and scarf came off.

With my jeans rolled up, I first thought that I would easily be able to sit in the car for two hours, but after a few minutes, I could feel the temperature had already climbed and the thought of sitting in the locked vehicle for another hour and 50 minutes filled me with anxiety.

As the temperature steadily rose, my lungs burnt as I breathed in the hot, stuffy air that soon filled the car and a light layer of perspiration broke out across my brow.

I tried to concentrate on the music playing on the car radio, but the trickle of sweat running down my back made it impossible to ignore the rapid increase in temperature around me.

After 30 minutes, I was told by the university that the air temperature inside the car had exceeded “extreme caution levels” and was sitting at 33 degrees while the temperature outside was still at a low 18 degrees.

As my hair clung to my forehead and my neck, I stared out the car window at the UKZN students and ER24 paramedics dressed in scarves and boots and felt a twinge of envy at the cool breeze they were experiencing while I was trapped in a 33 degree environment.

I began fanning my face with my hands, just to feel some sort of breeze, but the air was so stagnant, and thick with heat, there was no relief.

After a few more minutes, one of the UKZN students tapped on my window looking very concerned and asked if I was alright and then pointed to the mirror.

When I saw myself I was shocked. My face was bright red and speckled with droplets of sweat and my hair looked as if I had just been swimming. It was wet.

I felt slightly nauseous. I could feel my heart racing in my chest as I was forced to gulp down more of the stuffy air that filled the car.

I was then informed that although the temperature outside had only increased by one degree, the inside of the car had reached a startling 43 degrees after one hour and 15 minutes, which could be grocery shopping time for the average person.

As I sat there, a fully grown adult, locked in a car for an hour and 15 minutes, my clothes sticking to my back, my hair plastered against my forehead, heart racing and lungs burning, I felt a wave of panic at the thought of a young child or animal having to go through what I had just experienced.

Through studies by the agrometeorology department, and through yesterday’s experiment, it has been proven that children and animals should not be left in a locked car for any amount of time, no matter what season it is.

Savage said that even if a car window was open, their study showed that it made little or no difference to the air temperature inside the car.

He said in winter, young children, especially babies, were strapped into a car seat and dressed warmly, which made it the heat experienced even worse.

Professor Savage said within 45 minutes, the temperature inside the car was double that outside.

“Outside conditions are no indicator of the inside conditions which could be lethal to anyone or any animal left in the car for a couple of hours.”

When the experiment began, the temperature in the vehicle was 17,6 degrees. Less than 20 minutes in, it had already reached 27 degrees, with 26,7 degrees being known as a caution level. After half-an-hour, the temperature had increased to 33 degrees. Ten minutes later the temperature outside was 18 degrees while the inside had reached 36 degrees. It reached 38 degrees 20 minutes later. At last count the temperature reached 43 degrees after an hour and 15 minutes in the vehicle.

Netcare Milpark Hospital Trauma Programme manager Rene Grobler wrote in an article that “one minute is all it takes for something horrific to happen” when leaving a child in the car.

The article, written for Netcare, was sent by Grobler to The Witness and said children could not regulate their body temperature as well as adults could.

“As babies are born with the skin they will eventually grow into as adults, the volume of skin covering a baby is greater. This volume of skin can make it harder for a baby’s body to maintain fluids.

“Children generate more heat because they have a higher metabolic rate and do not sweat as much.

“Why should you never leave your child alone in the car? It is scary for a child to be left alone and a car’s temperature can change quickly. It can become too hot or too cold in minutes. Temperatures too high can lead to heat stress and even death,” said Grobler

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  heat
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