Heat wave: So hot you can see it from space

A NOAA animation based on satellite data puts the heat wave in context, while it and other agencies offer practical tips for staying cool.

How hot is it?

It’s so hot, I saw a dog chasing a cat, and they were both walking.

It’s so hot, kids are using the fire hydrants to make tea.

It’s so hot, Mac OS X Lion got a bad review, and the fanboys didn’t care.

It’s so hot ... you can see it from space.

OK, sorry. But that last one might have been what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had in mind when it created an animation to show how the heat wave is spreading.

The animation shows how the heat wave spread from July 19-23, with the heat depicted as an expanding cloud of red smoke. (And not to point fingers but, in the United States at least, it looks like it’s all Texas’ fault; that’s where the “cloud” of heat seems to originate in the model.)

And it is a view from space, of sorts. Data for the animation is drawn from NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) and the Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite (POES) systems, according to NOAA.

GOES satellites, which orbit in a fixed position 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, identify clear skies that enable the heat to spread and cloudy areas that could slow down the spread. POES satellites orbit the Earth every 102 minutes at an altitude of 517 miles, collecting environmental data, such as the existence of ridges in the upper level of the atmosphere that contribute to heat waves, for NOAA’s computerized weather prediction models.

For the animation, data was fed into NOAA’s high-resolution North American Model, and it gives viewers a quick look at how far and wide the heat has spread.

Of course, viewing it from on high is one thing, but feeling it around you is another. The heat, with high temperatures above 100 degrees in many places and heat indices in the neighborhood of 110 to 115, is a serious matter, especially to people with medical conditions that could be worsened by excessive heat.

NOAA’s page on getting through the heat wave points out that, “Each year, heat kills 1,500 people on average in the United States — more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, lightning, or any other weather event combined.”

The site provides a link to the National Weather Service’s weather advisory page, and offers some common-sense, but nevertheless helpful, dos and don’ts. For example, do drink plenty of water, eat light, reduce strenuous activity and check on elderly neighbors, friend and relatives. Don’t leave any person or animal in the car even for a short time, drink alcohol (which dehydrates the body) or take salt tablets unless a doctor tells you to.

The Environmental Protection Agency offers similar advice

And states and municipalities looking for the best way to manage their services during heat waves can get advice from EPA’s Excessive Heat Events Guidebook, downloadable as a PDF here.

The guide details best practices for mitigating the effects of the heat, including those that have saved lives, EPA says. It was developed with input from NOAA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Homeland Security Department and municipal officials in the U.S. and Canada.

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