US south, Midwest sweat it out in dangerous heatwave

Children cooling off in Washington as temperatures hit about 33 deg C on Monday. With temperatures of around 37 deg C at midday, parts of 13 states in the United States were under heat advisories, from Texas, Louisiana and Florida in the south to Mis
Children cooling off in Washington as temperatures hit about 33 deg C on Monday. With temperatures of around 37 deg C at midday, parts of 13 states in the United States were under heat advisories, from Texas, Louisiana and Florida in the south to Missouri and Illinois in the Midwest, the National Weather Service reported.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BIRMINGHAM (Alabama) • Forecasters are warning about days of scorching, dangerous heat gripping a wide swathe of the US south and Midwest, where the heat index on Monday was approaching 48.9 deg C in one town and climbed nearly that high in others.

With temperatures around 37 deg C at midday and "feels like" temperatures soaring even higher, parts of 13 states were under heat advisories, from Texas, Louisiana and Florida in the south to Missouri and Illinois in the Midwest, the National Weather Service reported.

"It feels like hell is what it feels like," said Ms Junae Brooks, who runs Junae's Grocery in Mississippi. Around her, many of her customers kept cool with wet rags around their necks or by wearing straw hats.

Some of the most oppressive conditions were in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

In Alabama, temperatures hit 37.7 deg C, with a heat index of 41.1 deg C by mid-afternoon in Birmingham, the state's largest city.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke were the leading threats.

More of the same was expected yesterday, when heat and humidity would again make for dangerous heat indexes over a wide area. But an approaching cool front should help ease the intense heat by today in some areas, National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Chatelain said.

Historically, cities such as Austin, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; and Tallahassee, Florida experience less than a week's worth of days each year when the heat index is over 41 deg C. If no action is taken to stop climate change, the number of days when it is that hot will soar in those cities and others, according to a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In the Mississippi Delta, farmers had no choice but to work in the fields on Monday as they scrambled to clear debris and make repairs after flood waters inundated the region in recent months, Ms Brooks said. Farmers are now just able to reach their land. "The mosquitoes, the gnats, the spiders, the snakes - all of them - have been way worse this year," Ms Brooks said.

In Alabama and Tennessee, high school football coaches were adjusting practice schedules on Monday and yesterday, moving workouts indoors or conducting training in the early morning or evening, The Tennessean reported.

 
 

Cooling stations were open in several cities, including Tulsa, Memphis and Little Rock, Arkansas, officials said.

In northern Alabama, forecasters with the weather service's Huntsville office said on Monday that they issued the first "excessive heat warning" for the area in more than seven years. Such a warning is more serious than a heat advisory.

The region hardest hit by the heatwave could experience many more days each year when the heat index soars as the effects of climate change increase, scientists say.

Historically, cities such as Austin, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; and Tallahassee, Florida experience less than a week's worth of days each year when the heat index is over 41 deg C.

If no action is taken to stop climate change, the number of days when it is that hot will soar in those cities and others, according to a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. By mid-century, Austin would see 59 days of such extreme heat in an average year. The number of such days would rise to 57 in Baton Rouge; 52 in Jackson; and 50 in Tallahassee.

Southern states would feel the brunt of increasingly dangerous heat in coming years, said climate scientist Astrid Caldas, one of the study's authors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2019, with the headline 'US south, Midwest sweat it out in dangerous heatwave'. Print Edition | Subscribe