published Friday, July 9th, 2010

It's hot, hot, hot

Warm temperatures in the morning have been the prelude to sizzling heat in the afternoon for a while now. Thermometers have been flirting with triple digits for days, signaling that Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, like much of Eastern seaboard, are in the grip of a mini-heat wave that has posed considerable health risks and economic challenges to those who have little choice but to adapt to the vagaries of Mother Nature.

Temperatures in early July have been well above normal and precipitation has been scarce. That follows a June in which both heat and lack of moisture were notable. In Chattanooga, for example, June temperatures this year averaged 6 degrees above normal and rainfall was a scant 2.4 inches, well below the monthly average of 3.99 inches.

Excessive heat is dangerous, especially to the young, those above 65 , the obese, those with chronic illnesses, shut-ins and the homeless. Commonsensical precautions can minimize the dangers, but not everyone can or will take such steps. Public service agencies can help locate those most at risk from the heat and provide assistance, but their ability to provide aid declines as rising temperatures create greater demand for their services. Members of the community can fill the gap.

When weather conditions are extreme, community awareness of those at risk should expand. Neighbors should check on neighbors and members of groups or organizations like churches should do the same. Such attention can save lives and help-prevent heat-related illness.

The economic impact of extended hot weather is often overlooked. As the weather warms beyond seasonal averages, utility companies must meet expanded power demands. That's certainly the case here. Providers uniformly report rising usage. So far, the demand has been met. That's not the case in some areas of the country where extreme temperatures have stretched the power grid to a breaking point.

Responsible consumers can help reduce the demand for power. Even small changes -- setting the thermostat a couple of degrees higher, changing the filter, for example -- can cut usage and provide a bit of relief for the power grid. An added bonus for taking such measures is a reduction in what is likely to be a really big power bill next month.

Mercifully, the high temperatures of recent days have not been accompanied by the excessive humidity that is a common companion of summer's heat. That's likely to change. Forecasters with the National Weather Service predict an easing of the heat in coming days to more seasonal levels -- temperatures around 90 instead of the high 90s -- but a rise in humidity. The combination of 90-degree temperatures and higher humidity will make it feel like the temperature is close to 100 in some instances. Comfort, then, likely will remain elusive.

Nothing, of course, is sure when it comes to weather. July typically is the hottest month of the year in this region, but the high heat of recent days and nights doesn't necessarily set a pattern for the rest of the summer. All that's certain is that more hot and humid weather can be expected. It's better to plan for it than to be unprepared. That's the best way to ensure safety and comfort for area residents in the weeks before cooler temperatures arrive.

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