Missouri issues heat advisory

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

It was nearing noon and 93 degrees as Terry Byrd trekked through Cape Girardeau neighborhoods, beads of sweat forming on his forehead and a 20-pound bag of mail slung over his shoulder.

He was three hours into his usual six-hour shift delivering letters and packages for the Cape Girardeau Post Office, and the hottest part of the day was yet to come.

"It's been pretty nice most of the summer, but it's back to being hotter than hell now," said Byrd, a mail carrier for six years and resident of Jackson.

Missouri health officials on Monday issued a heat advisory as temperatures topped the 100-degee mark in much of the state.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services advisory asked people to take extra precautions to prevent heat-related illness and death.

For people like Byrd, who have to work outside no matter what the weather brings, that means drinking a lot of water and taking more breaks than usual.

"At least there's a breeze today," said Byrd, who prefers to walk instead of drive in his delivery vehicle, which doesn't have air conditioning. "It's really smoking in there, without any AC."

The department also was asking Missourians to check elderly family members and neighbors regularly and advised parents not to leave children unattended in the heat -- especially in vehicles.

"Missourians need to be aware that exposure to high temperatures and high humidity can be very dangerous, especially for older Missourians," said Dick Dunn, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services.

The department said that five heat-related deaths have been reported in Missouri this year along with 125 heat-related illnesses. Last year, 24 Missourians died because of heat-related causes, and 12 of those involved people 65 years of age or older.

Also on Monday, the National Weather Service in Kansas City issued a heat advisory for much of the western and central parts of the state, where temperatures were expected to reach between 103 degrees and 107 degrees. The heat advisory was in effect until 8 p.m. Monday.

Several weeks of unusually cool weather came to an end on Sunday, when National Weather Service officials in Paducah, Ky., recorded the hottest day of the year so far with a high of 97 degrees.

NWS meteorologist Kelly Hooper said the change in weather is easily explained.

"It's because it's August," Hooper said. "The high pressure shifted, and we're back to the usual now."

Hooper said the heat will get worse before it gets better. He expects Wednesday's temperatures to be similar to Sunday's year-high.

The heat and a lack of rain are also affecting agriculture in Missouri.

Currently, 24 northwest Missouri counties have begun water conservation efforts, another 15 counties in western and west-central Missouri have been placed on a drought alert, and 18 others are on a drought advisory.

"The heat and drought is having a substantial impact on agriculture," said Sally Oxenhandler, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.

Gov. Bob Holden last week asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assess drought conditions in 36 Missouri counties -- a first step toward requesting federal disaster aid because of dry conditions. State agricultural officials expect to hear back from counties this week, which could lead to a federal response as early as next week.

Dry conditions last year cost the state an estimated $460 million in crop and livestock losses and reduced economic activity.

Based on conditions Aug. 1, the Missouri Agricultural Statistics reported that corn production is forecast at 314 million bushels, 11 percent above last year's drought-diminished harvest but 9 percent below the production of two years ago.

Soybean production is forecast at 167 million bushels based on Aug. 1 conditions. That would be a decrease of 2 percent from last year and 11 percent from the 2001 crop.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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