Hot, humid front raises threat of heat-related illness
The town of Madison was thronged Sunday for its 125th an-niversary celebration and all-school reunion.
The hot, muggy weather didn't stop people from having a good time, said Maynard Meyer, head of the Madison Chamber of Commerce and general manager of KLQP Radio.
"We had a few thousand people in town for the celebration," he said.
But it wasn't until afterward that Madison learn-ed of the weather distinction it earned Sunday: The town was reportedly the only place in the western hemisphere, besides the Amazon rain forest, to re-cord a dew point in the 80s that day.
How did Madison do it? "I have no idea," Meyer mu-sed on Monday.
"I think we just must be lucky."
A huge bubble of hot, sticky air settled across southern and central Minnesota over the weekend, pushing temperatures and humidity levels uncomfortably and even dangerously high.
The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning that remains in effect until 9 p.m. Wednesday. The afternoon heat index is expected to hit 105 to 115 today and Wednesday.
During this time the risk of heat-related illness will be higher than normal, especially for children, the elderly and others who are more vulnerable.
"The biggest problem we're having right now is the high temperatures combined with the high humidity," said Brad Hanson, operations manager for the Willmar Ambulance Service.
When the air is super-charged with moisture as it has been the past few days, the body becomes less able to cool itself through evaporation of sweat, he explained.
Once the heat index reaches 105 or above, the risk of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and potentially fatal heat stroke begins to rise.
Young children are vulnerable to the heat because they have less ability than adults to regulate their body heat, Hanson said. "It's not fully developed in younger kids."
The body's heat-control mechanism and ability to stay hydrated also can be inhibited by certain medications -- for example, diuretics, beta blockers, antihistamines and some antipsychotic drugs, Hanson said.
Even young healthy people can succumb to the heat if they're involved in strenuous physical activity or are outdoors for a prolonged time.
"We suggest taking it easy, wearing loose clothing and staying out of direct sunlight," Hanson said. "As this continues on, there might be more effects. People who thought they were doing enough and drinking enough water find out they aren't. It's really something to consider. Dehydration is huge. We always suggest people drink at least a couple of those 20-ounce bottles of water every couple of hours, especially if they're working outside."
There was little respite from the heat Monday for crews with Kandiyohi County Public Works who were outdoors patching roads and cleaning up tree debris from a series of thunderstorms this past week.
"Ideally you would not like to be out on the road but you have to. All you can do is take extra precautions," said Dave Fritz, maintenance engineer.
All the employees have undergone safety training for dealing with weather extremes, he said. They were equipped for the day with lots of water and advised to take extra breaks.
Workers who needed to cool down could take refuge in one of the department's air-conditioned trucks or other vehicles, Fritz said. "They can get in and out of the heat if they need to."
The Willmar Ambulance Service was busy with calls Monday but very few of them were heat-related, Hanson said.
Even in the back of an air-conditioned ambulance, it was difficult for emergency medical crews and patients to completely escape the heat, he said. "It sure feels better than outside, but we're just not able to keep up."
In Madison, residents were coping Monday by slowing down and staying indoors.
"I think people have just been pacing themselves," Meyer said. "Everybody is just being careful."
Monday was another scorcher. By mid-afternoon, the temperature had hit 90 degrees and the dew point was at 84, creating conditions that felt like 117 degrees, Meyer said. "We have our air conditioning cranked up pretty good."
Pets can suffer in the heat too. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals urges pet owners to make sure their pet has plenty of fresh water available to drink and a sheltered place in the shade. Better yet, bring your animal companion indoors where it's air-conditioned.