published Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Excessive heat poses dangers

Chattanoogans and residents of the surrounding area are accustomed to dealing with the high heat and humidity of a typical summer. It is far more difficult for residents of the nation's more temperate areas to cope with occasional periods of extremely high temperatures and humidity. Millions of Americans who live in an area stretching from the Oklahoma through the Ohio Valley to the East Coast will have to learn to adapt quickly.

A huge mass of extremely hot air and excessive moisture -- called a "heat dome" by meteorologists -- has baked parts of the nation's midsection for days. It's now on the move, sliding to the north and to the east. It will bring record-breaking temperatures and humidity to areas more accustomed to warm rather than hot weather. More than 25 states likely will be placed under heat advisories or excessive heat warnings before the weekend ends.

Southeast Tennessee will be spared the worst of it. "This area really isn't in the core of the hot weather," said Nick Austin, meteorologist at WRCB-TV. But while it is unlikely that temperatures records here will be broken in the next couple of days, that doesn't mean conditions will be pleasant.

Austin said the weather system responsible for widespread and record-breaking heat to the north and the east will increase humidity levels here. The resultant discomfort -- the heat index in the city was about 104 degrees before the arrival of afternoon thundershowers on Thursday -- is palpable, but still manageable for most people.

Indeed, area residents, so far, seem to have handled the hot weather in stride. Hospitals report only small increases in those seeking treatment for heat-related illnesses. Most people, one health official said, seem to heed warnings about the heat and to take steps to minimize risks. That's especially true, it seems, for those required to work outdoors.

Gary Bloodworth of Tennessee Valley Ice Co. says sales have increased since temperatures and humidity here have spiked. "We deal with a lot of construction crews and other industries that require workers to be outdoors. When the temperature hits the 90s for several days in a row, our demand goes up." Not everyone across the country can deal so expeditiously with the heat and humidity.

In New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where temperatures were at or near 100 on Thursday and expected to be the same or higher today, several heat-related deaths have been reported. The number is expected to rise as heat indices in some areas reach 115. A National Weather Service forecaster in Ohio said Thursday that conditions are and "just very dangerous."

This area, for the moment, has escaped the worst of the current onslaught of heat, though parts of Middle and West Tennessee have not. The reprieve, such as it is, is welcome, but it should not produce complacence. The hottest and most humid weeks of the summer-- and the dangers that accompany them -- are on the horizon.

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