Heat: A Major Killer! (From The USA’s NWS)

As heat waves spread across the USA, the following article from the US National Weather Service (NWS) website with links to other NWS and EPA web pages, is worth repeating here.


Sunset on a hot summer day

Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year.

In fact, on average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.

In the disastrous heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died.

In the heat wave of 1995 more than 700 deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to heat.

In August 2003, a record heat wave in Europe claimed an estimated 50,000 lives.

North American summers are hot; most summers see heat waves in one or more parts of the United States.

East of the Rockies, they tend to combine both high temperature and high humidity, although some of the worst heat waves have been catastrophically dry.

NOAA’s Watch, Warning, and Advisory Products for Extreme Heat

Heat Index forecast map for the contiguous United StatesEach National Weather Service Forecast Office issues the following heat-related products as conditions warrant:

Excessive Heat Outlooks: are issued when the potential exists for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days. An Outlook provides information to those who need considerable lead time to prepare for the event, such as public utility staff, emergency managers and public health officials.

See the mean heat index and probability forecasts maps.

Excessive Heat Watches: are issued when conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event in the next 24 to 72 hours. A Watch is used when the risk of a heat wave has increased but its occurrence and timing is still uncertain.

A Watch provides enough lead time so that those who need to prepare can do so, such as cities officials who have excessive heat event mitigation plans.

Excessive Heat Warning/Advisories are issued when an excessive heat event is expected in the next 36 hours. These products are issued when an excessive heat event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurring.

The warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property.

An advisory is for less serious conditions that cause significant discomfort or inconvenience and, if caution is not taken, could lead to a threat to life and/or property.

How Forecasters Decide Whether to Issue Excessive Heat Products

NOAA’s heat alert procedures are based mainly on Heat Index Values.

The Heat Index,??sometimes referred to as the apparent temperature,?? is given in degrees Fahrenheit.

The Heat Index is a measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored with the actual air temperature.

To find the Heat Index temperature, look at the Heat Index chart below. As an example, if the air temperature is 96 ??F and the relative humidity is 65%, the heat index–how hot it feels–is 121 ??F. The Weather Service will initiate alert procedures when the Heat Index is expected to exceed 105 ??-110 ??F (depending on local climate) for at least 2 consecutive days.

heat index table

IMPORTANT: Since heat index values were devised for shady, light wind conditions, exposure to full sunshine can increase heat index values by up to 15 ??F.

Also, strong winds, particularly with very hot, dry air, can be extremely hazardous.

The Heat Index Chart shaded zone above 105 ??F shows a level that may cause increasingly severe heat disorders with continued exposure or physical activity.