tampabay.com

Nation swelters, Florida shrugs

We're used to the gulf's tropical thrust, which has warmed up the eastern and central U.S.

By GRAHAM BRINK
Published July 19, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - All around town these days you can hear variations of "Man, it's hot!"

It is, but a massive heat wave has made much of the rest of the country even worse.

Seldom does such a large swath of the country - from Concord, N.H., to Medford, Ore. -have a swelter factor higher than Central Florida.

"In Florida, we are somewhat acclimated to this kind of heat, but a lot of people up North are not," said Rick Davis, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

The national heat wave is the result of a massive high-pressure system across the eastern and central United States that has trapped warm air from the Gulf of Mexico for several days.

One of the hottest areas on Tuesday was the Plains region from South Dakota to Texas.

An unofficial report had the temperature in South Dakota soaring to 120 degrees, the highest since the Dust Bowl of 1936. That makes Tuesday's high of 91 degrees at Tampa International Airport seem almost pleasant. And Tampa's high has never gone over 99 degrees, according to the weather service.

A cold front could cool parts of the northern Plains today, but farther south in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, forecasts called for temperatures above 100 degrees.

Desert cities like Dallas, Phoenix and Palm Springs are routinely hotter than the Tampa Bay area in the summer. The temperatures in more northern cities like Salt Lake City and St. Louis also spike above 100 degrees nearly every July.

But even Minot, N.D., near the Canadian border, topped Tampa on Tuesday with 94 degrees. (To be fair, Minot's humidity at 9 p.m. Wednesday was only 33 percent while Tampa's was 85 percent.)

The heat wave, responsible for at least five deaths so far, comes after the country as a whole experienced the warmest first half of any year since record-keeping began in 1895, according to scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"If I see sprinklers or hydrants, I just drench myself," said New Haven, Conn., letter carrier Ceferino Roman, who walked his route in 20-minute intervals, taking breaks in between. "This is the worst."

In New York City, the mayor ordered city offices to turn off unnecessary lights to conserve energy. In Pennsylvania, swimming pools stayed open late and summer school classes let out early.

In New York City, the mayor ordered city offices to turn off unnecessary lights to conserve energy. In Pennsylvania, swimming pools stayed open late and summer school classes let out early.

Forecast showers and thunderstorms could give the Midwest and Northeast a break from the heat today.

For now, make fun of the residents of Pierre, S.D., suffering in 102-degree heat, all you want.

Just remember: Their heat wave will soon pass. Expect more of the same around here for months.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Graham Brink can be reached at brink@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8406.