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The high temperatures and humidity plaguing the region aren't unprecedented, but they are a widespread topic of conversation given their arrival before the official start of summer. With temperatures at 90 and more, heat indices near or above triple digits, and predictions for the same for the next week or more, the forecast that matters is easy to make: It will be miserably hot and generally uncomfortable.

Stepping outdoors now delivers instant confirmation that the misery index is high. The only relief, it seems, comes with the passage of a thunderstorm. In locales where a storm strikes, the air does cool, but that sometimes comes at a price -- damaging lightning, winds and heavy rains. Besides, when the storm passes, the heat and humidity return. There is, it seems, no escape.

There is an official explanation for the current weather pattern. A meteorologist at the U.S. Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn., said Wednesday that high pressure will continue to produce temperatures in the lower to mid-90s through at least the middle of next week. The only bit of fresh air, so to speak, that he could offer to sweltering residents is that while temperatures will stay in the 90s, the humidity might decline in the Tennessee Valley in the next few days as a front brings drier air to the region. That will be welcome, but it will be short-lived.

"The air," the meteorologist said, "will moisten up early next week."

There are some coping mechanisms available. People stay relatively comfortable by moving from centrally cooled homes to air conditioned-vehicles to air-conditioned places to work and play. Then, they retrace their steps. Unfortunately, not everyone can do so.

Some must work outdoors and others find the cost of air conditioning and fans prohibitive. The latter often includes the aged and infirm who are unwilling to open doors and windows for safety reasons. Their health subsequently depends heavily on networks of family, friends, neighbors and social service agencies that willingly check on those most vulnerable to the heat. Such assistance often is the only thing that prevents serious illness and even death when temperatures and humidity soar.

It won't make us feel more comfortable, but the Weather Service spokesman says that the heat of the last week is not unusual. Temperatures are about five degrees above seasonal norms but below record levels. There's some comfort, too, in his assurance that high temperatures now do not portend even more heat later.

The truth, it seems, is the same now as it always has been when it comes to the heat. We can try to stay cool and hydrated. We can take care of those at highest risk during prolonged hot weather. And, complain as we may, we must wait until the cooler temperatures of fall arrive for real relief.

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