Heat wave ties 1983 record for length

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Twenty-eight days and counting.

The deadly heat wave baking Southeast Missouri tied a 24-year-old Cape Girardeau record Wednesday for the longest string of days with a high temperature of 90 degrees or above. By late afternoon, the mercury had climbed to 99 degrees, but low humidity kept the area below the threshold for a heat advisory or warning.

And the forecast issued Wednesday afternoon indicates the record may be surpassed by at least six days before cooler weather results in a high temperature in the 80s.

Along with the heat, continued dry weather throughout the region has put many area counties under a "red flag" warning about the potential fire hazard caused by dry grass and underbrush, gusty winds and low humidity. The warning includes Union, Alexander and Massac counties in Southern Illinois as well as several counties in western Kentucky. No Missouri counties are included in the warning.

The record reached Wednesday ties the mark set from August to September 1983. Past heat waves could have been longer, but no official records for Cape Girardeau are available prior to 1960.

The heat wave has claimed one life in Cape Girardeau County. Last Wednesday, Analita Castellano, 81, of Indiana, suffered cardiac arrest while at Trail of Tears State Park, where she had been camping with family.

Statewide, the heat wave is blamed for 12 deaths, with seven more deaths suspected of being heat-related, said Brian Quinn, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Overall, the health agency has received reports of 1,300 illnesses related to the heat, he said.

The investigation of Castellano's death is complete and has been ruled accidental, Cape Girardeau County Coroner John Clifton said. The death, while it happened in a public place, shows how quickly someone can succumb to the intense heat, he said.

The Cape Girardeau Police Department will conduct a home visit to check on a person's well-being and has fielded 503 such calls since July 26, spokesman Jason Selzer said. "If somebody hasn't heard from someone in a long time, we will go by the house and check," he said.

Department records don't indicate the reasons for the calls, Selzer said, so he can't be certain how many were heat-related.

The Cape Girardeau Fire Department also doesn't index its emergency medical responses in a way that can show which ones are related to heat, said the department's Bill Crump. Instead, he said, the reports deal with signs and symptoms.

Schools in the Cape Girardeau district are making decisions about outdoor recess and sporting activities on a building-by-building basis, superintendent Dr. David Scala said.

Since July 26, when a high of 90 was recorded, the heat has set four records for daily high temperatures and the airport reading has reached 100 or above four times. A weather station in downtown Cape Girardeau monitored by the Southeast Missourian has recorded five days with highs of 100 or above.

The best chance for breaking the string will come this weekend, when a weak cool front will try to push through the area, said Mike York, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Paducah, Ky.

The predicted high for Sunday is 90, but reaching that high could depend on whether clouds associated with the front linger throughout the day, York said.

"The cloud cover will be the key," York said. "If the cloud cover lasts most of the day, we will not hit 90 that day."

The heat will return at the beginning of the week, York said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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