Heat, humidity create dangerous conditions

Sunday, August 3, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Abundant spring rainfall and the highest temperatures of the summer are combining to create potentially life-threatening conditions in Missouri and Kansas, the National Weather service said Saturday.

Temperatures were approaching the mid-90s in Kansas City on Saturday afternoon and expected to get close to 100 by the end of the weekend. But it's the humidity that is making things dangerous, the weather service said.

"We had so much rainfall this spring, and the heat and sun are cooking the moisture out of the ground," said Matthew Dux, a meteorologist in the weather service's Pleasant Hill office. "With the 90-degree weather and very high moisture levels, the heat index readings get pushed up well over the 100-degree mark."

The weather service has issued heat advisories for much of Kansas and the western part of Missouri, with an extreme heat warning for the Kansas City metro area where a heat index of 105 to 110 degrees was forecast for Saturday and today.

"From Kansas City to Wichita to Springfield, Mo., in that corridor it's going to be pretty bad," Dux said.

In the Kansas City metro area, which includes suburbs on both sides of the state line, dozens of cooling centers had been set up for people who don't have access to air conditioners. Last year 11 people died in Kansas City from heat-related causes, the Kansas City Health Department said.

Department spokesman Jeff Hershberger said heat death numbers weren't available on the Kansas side because heat isn't an official cause of death in that state.

"If you have access to an air conditioner, there might be concerns about the bill, but at the same time life is so much more important," he said. "Several deaths last year were people who had air conditioners but didn't turn them on."

The Health Department was coordinating with the United Way to direct people to cooling shelters set up by the Salvation Army and to other places like malls and libraries where people could go to cool off.

Scott Jones, a spokesman for the United Way, said the Kansas City call center -- which can be reached by dialing 211 -- will be staffed 24 hours a day through Monday to provide information on cooling centers and tips to stay safe during the heat.

Dux said the heat can especially be a problem in urban areas, where blacktop and concrete send temperatures even higher.

"If you're exposed to such high levels of heat and humidity, it can really drain on a person," he said. "Once you get the heat index levels to 100 degrees, it gets critical. It takes less than an hour to expose yourself to some very dangerous conditions. If you don't keep yourself cool, you can very easily overheat and push yourself into a number of heat disorders."

Especially worrisome is heat stroke, Dux said, which can be life-threatening.

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