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High Humidity Could Make Sweeping Heat Wave More Miserable And Dangerous

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A massive heat wave is sweeping over two-thirds of the country this week. From the Plains to the Rockies to the Northeast, tens of millions of people are under heat advisories and warnings. And high humidity could make it feel well over 100 degrees in some places, adding to the misery and to the danger. Mose Buchele reports from member station KUT in Austin.

MOSE BUCHELE, BYLINE: David Kong is standing on a street corner in Austin starting a shift holding up a big sign for a real estate company. He's out here all afternoon with the heat index set to hit triple digits. But he's ready.

DAVID KONG: They say there's no such thing as bad weather, just poor planning.

BUCHELE: So he's attached a small portable fan to the sign.

KONG: Well, yeah. No, you're absolutely right. Look at it. Check it out. Fan - so good.

BUCHELE: Like a lot of people in Austin, he's greeting the heat wave with kind of a shrug. It's not that it's not hot. It's that here it's like this a lot of the time. Here's how Madeline Ortiz put it. She's a UT student from San Antonio.

MADELINE ORTIZ: Like, for the past few years, I feel like it's just been getting hotter. So like, I guess I've gotten acclimated to it. But other than that, it's, like, just not normal.

BUCHELE: She's right. Here, the average annual temperature has risen by 4 degrees in the last four decades. This century, we're averaging 38 triple-digit days, up from 13 last century. Burton Fitzsimmons is the chief meteorologist for Austin's Spectrum News. He says Texas isn't the only place getting hotter.

BURTON FITZSIMMONS: Extreme heat to you and me, by Austin standards, is a lot different than, let's say, 70 degrees in Anchorage - in fact, they just hit 90, their all-time high, just a few weeks back - versus, let's say, New England, where 90 is one thing but 100 is something else.

BUCHELE: He says other places are starting to see the kind of weather Texans have endured for decades, but it's all part of the same thing.

FITZSIMMONS: All over, we're seeing these signs of our warming planet.

BUCHELE: It's happening at night, too. The National Weather Service says overnight lows in many places are expected to only get down to the upper 70s or lower 80s. That could break dozens of overnight temperature records. Experts are urging people to take care. Cities are opening cooling centers, advising people to stay indoors and extending hours for public swimming pools.

Another concern - strained power grids, which could leave many without air conditioning; also, overwhelmed emergency rooms - experts say communities will need to get used to planning for all these things, as the warming climate makes heat waves like this one more common.

For NPR News, I'm Mose Buchele in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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