It is the heat…and the humidity

A friend who transplanted from life in the Midwest to Floyd County in retirement a few years ago says he and his wife would have found another place if the weather here would have been as humid when they first visited 13 years ago.

I spent my high school years in Floyd County from 1961-65 and humidity was something we read about in newspapers.  Most of us didn’t have air conditioning in our cars back then or mechanically-cooled air in our homes.

Wasn’t needed.

As the old saying goes, that was then, this is now.

The thermometer on our back porch reads 65 degrees this morning — a bit cooler than the low 70s that has been the overnight low in recent mornings, but the humidity is 100 percent and temperatures today are expected to climb past 85 degrees with the usual collection of thunderstorms arriving by early afternoon.

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” reports another saying.

Bull.  It’s both.

“It’s really the dew point that is the measure of how humans feel outside,” says Carlie Buffola, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Writes Jonathan Wolfe and Alexandra S. Levine in The New York Times:

Humans cool their bodies by sweating. But when the dew point or humidity is high, that means the air is already saturated with moisture and your sweat has a harder time evaporating. The weather service compensates for this by giving us the heat index, a subjective measurement of the heat based on how hot and humid it is.

And depending on your body type, you may feel even hotter.

People with higher body fat and higher muscle mass typically generate more heat when active, requiring more sweat to cool off, said Dr. Andrew Marks, a professor of physiology at Columbia University. Older adults, children and those with certain types of disease may also not be optimal sweaters and will very likely feel more overheated.

“There’s also a psychological component,” Dr. Marks tells The Times. “How hot you feel is really under the control of your central nervous system and the signals it receives, many from your skin, which is a big sensor. That’s why you see some people looking very comfortable in high heat, and some people looking very uncomfortable.”

Dr. Marks tells those suffering in heat should wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing and spend hotter parts of days in air-conditioned spaces.

In areas where many people work outside, that is not always possible.  Same for those who live in homes that are not air-conditioned.

Notes Anthropocene magazine in its Weekly Science Dispatch on “sustainability science:”

Extreme heat can be not just uncomfortable but deadly. Heat waves are expected to become more frequent, more severe, and longer with climate change. And projections of future heat stress that rely on temperature alone underestimate the problem, according to two recent studies.

The reason is that humidity – the amount of moisture in the air – plays a big role in how hot a given temperature feels. Humid air that is saturated with water vapor interferes with the body’s ability to cool itself by sweating. Relatively little research has looked at how humidity will affect extreme heat events with climate change, but the two new studies suggest that humidity could make the effects of future heat waves much worse.

In other words, it is the humidity and downright miserable weather conditions.

A half-century ago, I left the then relative low-humidity of Southwestern Virginia for a new reporting job on the Mississippi River in the St. Louis metropolitan area, an area of sticky, high humidity and prickly heat. My 1968 Ford Torino fastback did not have air conditioning.  I found myself miserable driving to work even on early mornings.  By mid-afternoon, I emerged from short drives soaked to the skin from the humidity.

Added an aftermarket air conditioner to the Torino and then replaced it with a car with factory air.  Even when I bought a new Triumph TR-6 convertible sports car in 1976, it came with factory air.   In many hot, humid days, I drove that car with the top up and the air conditioner going full blast.

The return to Floyd County in 2004 brought more than a few surprises, and the heat and humidity topped the list.  This summer of 2019 is the hottest and most humid since that return.

It is the humidity.

It is simply too hot.

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