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It's Really, Really, Really Hot Out

Steve Tracton
Meteorologist, Capital Weather Gang
Monday, June 9, 2008 2:30 PM

Steve Tracton of the Capital Weather Gang was online Monday, June 9 at 2:30 p.m. ET to take your questions about the heat -- why is it like this, how to keep safe, getting the most out of your air conditioning, and, most importantly, when is it going to end.

A transcript follows

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Accokeek, Md.: Does this extremely hot weather mean we are in for a whopper this summer?? And what's your take on our progressively mild winters? Is that a factor?

Steve Tracton: Of course the answer depends upon what you mean by "whopper". Assuming you are referring to excessive heat/humidity - not asking whether you'll consume more "whoppers" at Burger King this summer - I don't believe this early heat wave signifies much, if anything, about the balance of the summer. There no doubt will be more hot spells, but whether they occur more or less frequently with greater or lesser intensity likely does not relate to the current spell or anything last winter.

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Kensington, Md.: I thought I'd save everyone time and summarize today's chat comments, before they even come through. No need for thanks. (1) It's really hot where we live. (2) We've sure had a lot of rain. (3) It's been really hot and a lot of rain. (4) This is all caused by global warming. (5) I hope you're not going to let people say this is caused by global warming. (6) What is this chat about?

Steve Tracton: Not given instance of excessive heat or any other extreme weather can be attributed directly to global warming; while it's hot here in the eastern U.S., departures it's been unusually cold in much of the west. ON average, though I don't have the statisitcs now, it's probably close to "normal" across the continental U.S. overall.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm surprised there's been no relaxation of the dress code. My agency once said no tank tops. Isn't there any relief with clothes?

Steve Tracton: I have no say on dress codes, but to be honest, I'd be amongst the first to disregard them if conditions waranted. When it's cold, you can always add layers. When it's hot, however, there's only so much one can take off before .....

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Washington, DC: How normal or abnormal is it to see such a strong Bermuda High this early in the year? I'm not weather expert, but isn't this weather pattern something that we normally see around July and August?

Steve Tracton: As I've mentioned in a previous answer, yes the weather pattern now is more likely to occur later in the summer, but it's not all that unusual or unprecedented to see this, or een earlier, in the warm season.

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Washington, D.C.: What contributes to the fact that DC has high humidity levels that makes the air feel more muggy/worse than it actually is? What are some major cities that are known for having low humidity?

Steve Tracton: The moisture in the air that makes it so muggy is being transported by the south to southwesterly circulation of the "Burmuda High" from tropical regions of the Atlantic and/or Gulf of Mexico.

BTW: anyone planning to attend the Nat's game tonight (thank goodness it's not a day game) check out the Capital Weather Gang's NatCast; just becasue it's a night game, however, it's still going to be plenty hot, so dring plenty of liquids (non-alchoholic), wear loose clothing, etc. You know the drill.

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NWDC: After a ten block walk to Metro (to save on gas), the Metro train pulls up, I get on and no air conditioning at all. Too late to jump off and go to another car. I endured it for one stop and moved to the next one. No cool air at all. I jumped off again and waited for the next train. Why oh why would Metro send out cars without air conditioning? Talk about sweating bullets in office attire -- yuck! At least I brought a hand towel with me and I really really needed it.

Steve Tracton: I feel you pain/discomfort: I suggest in addtion to your towel, you take along one of those small, battery powered fans. I've done this and am always asked by folks if they can borrow it for a minute or so.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you have any tips for homes that rely on window/wall a/c units? That is, do you have tips for maximizing their efficiency and the spreading the cool air throughout a house?

Steve Tracton: There's only so much cool air an air conditioner can generate and this depends upon the specs of the particular units. My suggestion is to close the door of the room having the AC and see if it it gets to cool. If so, open the door and see how much relief spreads beyond. If the unit cannot generate enough cool air to cool down other areas of the house, close the door again and hide out in that room for the duration.

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Washington, DC: The air quality doesn't seem so bad today. It's hot but there is a nice breeze. The news this morning bordered on hysteria about CODE RED AHHHH! Is there somewhere we can get quantifiable air quality reports? Just because it is 93 deg F outside doesn't mean you can't go outside and still fucntion.

Steve Tracton: If you google "air quality noaa code red" you'll find several sites about the air quality index. I for one am forced to stay indoors under conditions such as today to avoid aggrevating my asthma. Some people even with respirtory ailments will feel the effects,others will not. It's highly individual specific. So, for some, hysterical is not to strong a term.

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Washington, D.C.: Steve,

Any relationship between the warm weather now and warmer ocean temperatures later and subsequently stronger hurricanes even later?

Steve Tracton: NO, there is no significant relationship. One can argue that the warmer the the ocean temperatures in tropical regions, the moist the air that eventually is transported to our region. I doub'e however that the effect is large enough to make a difference in how you feel (relative to other things that can effect the moisture content).

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I might be alone here, but...:...it's really not that bad out there right now. I mean sure, it's hot, but it's not as humid as it was over the weekend, so there's a little relief.

Steve Tracton: Yes, it's not quite as humid as it's been over the weekend. Temperatures and dewpoints are a bit lower leading to a lower "heat index" which tells how your body feels.

The information that follows is from the Red Cross site: Note especially the last sentence - staying in direct sunlight - such as around a pool - has a dramatic increase on the threat to possible heat stroke - I know personally from my younger days as a lifeguard!!!

Our bodies dissipate heat by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation, by losing water through the skin and sweat glands, and as a last resort, by panting, when blood is heated above 98.6 F. Sweating cools the body through evaporation. However, high relative humidity retards evaporation, robbing the body of its ability to cool itself.

When heat gain exceeds the level the body can remove, body temperature begins to rise, and heat related illnesses and disorders may develop.

The Heat Index (HI) is the temperature the body feels when heat and humidity are combined. Exposure to direct sunlight can increase the HI by up to 15 F.)

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: How hot does it have to be to cook an egg on the sidewalk?

Steve Tracton: I don't know: try it!

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Rockville: I've always wondered how "official" average temperature for a specific day and place is determined? Are averages updated every year or is there a baselines of years that are used or is some other method used. Please comment.

Steve Tracton: I believe the daily average temperature is simply the average of the max and min for that day - but I could be wrong on details. The long term average for a given day at a given location - often mistakenly referred to as the "normal" are usually the mean over 30 years and updated evvery 10 years. The current averages ("normals") are for the period 1970-2000. Someone please correct me if this isn't correct.

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Fairfax, Va.: I'm continually amused at the attitude towards weather in this area. When there are a few consecutive days of 90-plus degree heat, it leads the local news and the front page of the local newspaper's website. Same if there are consecutive days of 30 or below weather.

You wouldn't hear all this agitating and grumbling about heat in places like Miami, Dallas, or San Diego nor would you hear the grumbling in Minneapolis, Chicago, or Des Moines about the cold yet people in the DC metro area seem to have nothing better to do.

Either the hot/cold weather stories are indicative of a slow news cycle or D.C. metro people are just constantly whiny weaklings.

Steve Tracton: Yeah, I agree, there's generally too much weather hype dispensed by the media. But, it's what everyone is talking about, let alone feeling - so it gets ratings, and that's the primary driver for TV, Newspapers, etc.

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Arlington, Va.: Is this heat wave just a weird quirk or is this a prelude to what the summer will be like? We haven't had one of these ultra-hot summers in a while have we? I remember one year (1999? 2000?) where there were lots of days that flirted with 100. But recent years were not so bad. Has all the rain so far this spring helped alleviate the drought that has been a problem the last couple of years?

Steve Tracton: I'd chalk this up not necessarily to a wierd quirk, but just a manifistation of a relatively infrequent, but not especially unusual departure from "average" for this time of year. We've had weeks in March when it's been this hot and uncomfortable as we are now experienceing (Mid 1980's if I recall correctly).

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Poolesville: How strong has the sun been during these recent heatwave? I feel that people know to put on suntan lotion when they are at the beach but has it been dangerous enough to warrant sunscreen if you are outside for a few hours lately?

Steve Tracton: With clear skies and the fact that astronomically the sun is just about as high as it gets in the sky in these parts, as little as 10-15 minutes without protection can produce severe burning. Even with the strongest sucscreen money can buy, I'd advise not staying exposed for "a few hours per day".

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Rockville, MD: Does heat exhaustion "carry over" from one day to the next if you have had a night in air conditioning in between? My parents are coming to visit this weekend and my mom doesn't do that well in the heat. I am going to suggest we limit museum hopping to just one day. She will see it as respect for her problems. But I wonder if she would actually be more likely to get sick on the second day.

Steve Tracton: I really don't know the answer to this question. I suggest you speak to your- or her - physician to be sure. I know my father who is 93 can take only one day at a time with a couple days in between - and he's in generally great physical and mental condition.

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Silver Spring: Two questions: Code Red means I should not mow my lawn tonight with a gas mower? Physically I can take it. But if doing it now is much worse then on a Code Red day, I can wait. Second, do mosquitoes respond more to heat and humidity? Yesterday was the first afternoon I had to deal with them in my back yard. I had thought the (relatively) milder temps were keeping them at bay.

Steve Tracton: Avoiding mowing the lawn on COde red days is for two reasons: First, avoid overstressing yourself and thereby the possibilty of heat stroke. Second, and just as important, Code Red means there is an accumulation of various pollutants trapped at low levels of the atmosphere. Running a lawn mower only generates more - about 10 time more per hour than driving your car!!!

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Washington, D.C.: Okay, I'll bite. When will it end?

Steve Tracton: A frontal passage will lower temperatures and more importantly reduce humidity levels by Wednesday evening. Since it's the heat index which is most related to how uncomfortable you feel, I refer you to the NOAA/NWS site which provides charts of predicted heat index for 3-7 days ahead:

http://www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/heat_index_MEAN.shtml

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Harrisburg, Pa.: So, Al Gore was right after all?

Steve Tracton: Yes Al GOre was right - he did win the popular vote in 2000, but still lost the election.

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Laurel, Md.: Hi Steve,

Is it a good idea to run today around 7 p.m. The place in question is not a track but a wooded area but I don't want to risk having a heat stroke either when I can just run on the treadmill in the gym.

Steve Tracton: As much as I like the outdoors, especially in the evening, I'd go for the treadmill tonight. As for me, rather than going for my evening bike ride outside, I'll stick to the stationary bike in the basement.

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Washington, D.C.: The outside temperature has to be about 105 degrees Fahrenheit to cook an egg. Keep in mind, the hotter it is, the faster the egg will cook. At 105 it will take about 12 minutes for the egg to cook.

Steve Tracton: Great if your having eggs for dinner. But you'll have to resort to the stove for eggs at tomorrow morning's breakfast

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Bethesda, Md.: What's your feeling on using DCA for the official Washington temperature? I always thought it was too warm compared with the rest of the city because of all the pavement out there. Would it be too costly for the NWS to set up an official measuring station somewhere else?

Steve Tracton: The location of the "official" DC obserevation, as traditionally true throughout the country, is to be at the local airport. It's not so much a matter of cost, but rather maintaining the record at a single location for as long as possible. I'm told the thermometer at National is not located so to feel the immediate effects of the pavement. More significantly, it is subject to any breeze coming off the Potomac. If the river water temperature is cooler than the surroundings, it will tend to result in a lowere than representative tmeperature and visa versa.

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Whiny Weaklings?: Yeah, but last time I checked, those other cities don'e get up to 90 consistently in the summer AND under 30 consistently in the winter. We get both, which I think is why we whine so much (that said, I get tired of it too). We're not generally-warm or generally-cold with spikes; we're all over the range over the course of a year.

Steve Tracton: Anyone can whine all they want - it isn't going to change the weather.

The only whining I do - not that it has ever done any good - is when we miss out on big snowstorms in the winter.

I'm signing off for now: hope you enhjoyed and maybe even learned something form this exchange.

Don't forget to check out check out the Weather Gang's CommuteCast just posted for the latest on how long the heat wave will last and tomorrow's potential for strong or severe storms.

Stay cool: Steve T.

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