Sweating Is Your Friend; The Truth About Heat Index

August 8, 2007 at 10:11 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My first year living and forecasting weather in Texas was 2004. I’ll admit I came in a bit cocky, but learned very quickly to talk less and listen more once my first severe weather season rolled around about three months into my first year. It was a challenge just to move to this part of the country let alone trying to forecast weather in arguably the most complex and important weather market in the country. I got a lot of help from David and Rebecca and learned a new lesson almost every day.

Then the summer rolled around and I learned my next weather lesson. “Hot” is in the eye of the beholder. For someone in New Jersey where I grew up, 90 is hot. For someone in Texas, 90 degrees in the summer is NOT hot, in fact, 96 degrees is the normal high for most of the summer at DFW Airport.

It is my belief (I have no actual evidence, but I feel positive about this theory) that where you grew up determines how well you adjust to weather. Much like your allergies and your immunities, I believe that the weather your body got used to as a kid will be with you for life. It’s why I come back drenched from a midnight run in the Texas summer heat after swearing out loud while I struggle to get to the finish line or why I run for hours in the Texas winter with nothing more than shorts and a sweat shirt. My body is used to the east coast. I’ve gotten a little better each year here and within each year, the end of the summer is better than the beginning for my body; our bodies do adjust each year as the summer goes on.

As far as what “hot” is – I think it’s insulting to say that we can’t use the word “hot” in Texas until it’s 100 degrees. I used to get slammed by viewers who would yell at me for using the word for ONLY double-digit weather. It’s arbitrary and it’s arrogant to tell another human being what hot is. Hot is relative to the season and the person. I learned the difference between hot and cold the first time I grabbed a hot pot on the stove as a kid and my mommy put ice on it. So when someone tells me what hot is and what it is NOT, it’s gets me going. In a Texas WINTER, 70 is hot. In a Texas SUMMER, 70 is COOL. When I would say 90 degrees was hot and it was only May, I would get bombarded with the mantra, “Just wait till August, Steve.”

That brings me to the Heat Index. No matter how long you’ve lived in Texas or how well you have adjusted to the summer heat, when you start adding humidity to the heat, it can be dangerous and deadly.

I travel to Las Vegas frequently and I marvel at how hot it is and how little I sweat. It might be a cliche, but it truly is a “dry” heat and a pleasant one, even at 115 degrees.

The human body is amazing. When it gets cold, it shivers; its teeth chatter, to produce heat. When it gets hot, it sweats. When the sweat evaporates (a cooling process) back into the air, it takes body heat with it and keeps us at that perfect 98.6 degrees.

In Las Vegas, even in the summer heat, I barely sweat because as soon as my body does try to sweat, it’s so dry that it quickly evaporates and cools me down. My body stays efficient, cool and healthy.

In North Texas, on the other hand, there is so much moisture in the air that my body sweats and sweats and then sweats some more, but all of that sweat doesn’t evaporate. As a result, my body is not as efficient. My body thinks it’s hotter. My body doesn’t like it and works extra hard to stay cool. That is the heat index; the combination of the heat and the humidity; the temperature my body thinks it is because of the moisture in the air and the inability to evaporate all the sweat that my body produces.

When our bodies can’t cool down properly, we can get heat exhaustion or even worse, the sometimes deadly heat stroke. The body actually stops sweating and begins shutting down. When you see a “heat advisory,” stay out of the peak afternoon heat. If you must be outdoors, try early mornings or after sunset. And don’t forget about your pets. We always tell you to NEVER leave your pets in cars, but remember a hot house can be dangerous too.

Air conditioning is the best bet. It takes the heat AND MOISTURE out of the air. If you don’t have it at home, got to a library or a mall. Fans sometimes aren’t enough when the heat is on in Texas; they don’t take the moisture out of the air.

One final note: The heat index tends to be the worst from the metroplex and EAST. The reason is the southerly wind bringing up moisture from the Gulf. The actual temperature might not be as high, but the heat index and the danger will be higher. Meanwhile, back to the west, it is generally drier which keeps the heat index lower, but the actual temperature may be slightly higher as the temperature rises and falls more when the humidity is lower. This also accounts for why humid nights are warmer; the temperatures can’t fall as quickly. This also accounts for why our western zones, where the humidity is lower, tend to be slightly cooler in the morning.

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2 Comments »

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  1. Steve,

    First let me apologize for the rude Texans. I fully appreciate the problem of defining hot or cold. My wife is from Long Isalnd and I am from Dallas. There is no convincing her that the Heat Index is higher here, thus we are hotter. I am curious though concerning the impact of the heat index if air conditioners work harder here or in Las Vegas.

    Welcome to Texas, and while you may not be an Aggie like David and Rebecca, at least you had the good sense to come to Texas.

  2. FYI…from a crazy English teacher…a colon (not a semi-colon) should be used when extending the main subject of a title. And “about” is a preposition so it should not be capitalized within a title.

    Also, I am a Michigander and I also find this Texas weather and heat index unbelievable. Thanks for providing great info. Any weather team with the likes of David Finfrock will always have my loyalty. 🙂

    Thanks!
    Jennifer K.
    Frisco


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