published Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Extremes of heat

Warm temperatures and high humidity in the early morning have been the introduction to scorching heat in the afternoon for a few days now. Many thermometers in the region have recorded triple digits since the weekend began, and those that did not have flirted with those numbers. The blistering temperatures and muggy air are the product of a heat wave that covers much of the United States and that brings considerable safety risks and economic challenges to those who have little choice other than to adapt to the current conditions. In weather like this, that includes everyone.

There’s little immediate relief in sight. Temperatures are expected to return to more seasonal levels soon, and the possibility of rain, near zero in recent days, is sure to rise. Still, July is typically the hottest month of the year here, and meteorologists’ long-range predictions currently call for a hotter and somewhat drier remainder of the summer. In short, weather conditions in coming weeks likely will be far more dangerous than the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” memorably extolled by the late Nat King Cole.

Even the normal extremes of summer weather can be dangerous. Excessive heat and humidity like that affecting the region now raise the risk level, especially for the very young, those over 65, the overweight, those with chronic illness, shut-ins and the homeless. There are ways to reduce heat-related dangers, but often those most at risk are the least able to take steps to do so. Public agencies can provide help, but their ability to provide assistance falls as rising temperatures produce greater need for their services.

Area residents can help take up the slack. Neighbors can look in on neighbors, and community groups — churches, civic and social groups, for example — should provide aid that might reduce the chance that lives will be lost or friends or neighbors sickened by current conditions. A public-private effort is the best defense against the dangers posed by the extraordinary weather.

The economic impact of the hot weather is often overlooked, but can be significant. The high temperatures increase demand for power. That stretches the ability of energy producers to meet the demand and for consumers to pay the inevitably higher bills for intensive air conditioning.

TVA, this region’s main power producer, usually is able to meet hot-weather demands. Some consumers, though, find that keeping cool in the current conditions can break household budgets. There is often little relief available to cash-strapped consumers, though some agencies and utility companies, thankfully, do have assistance programs. Even so, demand for help can outstrip available resources.

Grocery bills are likely to rise, too, if hot and dry weather persists and farm fields and pastures bake and wither. Little can be done to alter the economic problems that arise from such conditions.

The extreme heat of the last few days and whatever the remainder of summer brings will take its inevitable toll. Area residents can do little but plan for the worst and hope for the best. That’s the way to cope until cooler weather arrives.

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Don't forget to take care of your animals. Give them shade, water, and if possible, bring them aside for some cooling.

July 1, 2012 at 12:20 a.m.
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