Relentless heat, drought make for miserable summer

(RNN) - Excessive heat and drought made July a historic month for weather, and forecasters say there is no sign either will let up anytime soon.

According to records kept by the National Climatic Data Center, 2,755 heat records from coast to coast were broken or tied during the month of July.

In Minneapolis, MN, a high of 99 degrees was clocked on July 1, tying a record set about 100 years ago.

Heat: Weather's top killer

Heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the country, according to Eli Jacks, a National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist.

"It's a silent killer, and it's certainly been killing people this year," he said.

In the record-setting hot month of July, 64 deaths were reported to the NWS as of July 26. Jacks expects that number to rise once a final count comes in.

One state hit particularly hard is Texas, which experienced its hottest July ever and is currently undergoing its worst single-year drought in history.

As of June 24, 11 heat-related deaths were recorded in the Lone Star State for the year, according to Chris Van Deusen with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

One person died in March, three in April and seven in June. July's numbers may climb when final tolls are in.

The relentless heat is expected to continue its fury into August, said John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas State Climatologist.

"There's no sign of breaking the weather pattern," he said.

If you are experiencing extreme heat in your area, there are important steps you can take to safeguard your life, Jacks said.

No. 1 is stay hydrated.

"And that means water preferably, not alcoholic beverages that dehydrate," the meteorologist said.

Jacks also recommend wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen while outside.

Checking on the elderly, children and pets is of critical importance. Never leave a person or pet inside a hot automobile.

For more tips, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

During the worst periods of that month, a "majority" of U.S. states were affected by the scorching temperatures, said Eli Jacks, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

At one point, 150 million people were affected, Jacks said.

In places like Minneapolis and the Dakotas, the extreme heat waves are abnormal. Highs usually are in the low 80s this time of year.

Those without air conditioners really suffered as overnight temperatures remained in the mid-80s in many locations.

"That affects human health in general," Jacks said.

There is no recovery period for people without air-conditioners, especially in cities where the pavement adds to the heat.

Extreme levels of humidity were also problematic. Moisture makes it hard for the body to absorb sweat, which is a natural cooling agent.

Heat, Jacks said, is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the country. As of July 26, 64 fatalities had been logged for the month across 15 states.

"I would think there would probably be more [deaths] now," he said.

Jacks said he doesn't see any evidence that the heat will let go any time soon. The conditions necessary to cause the jet stream to push cooler air from the North to the South simply aren't there.

The weather's been messing with Texas

Particularly hard hit last month was the state of Texas. In the city of Dallas, there was only one day in the entire month that the temperature did not exceed 100 degrees. In Waco, every day exceeded 100 degrees. Houston recorded its third-warmest month in history.

"July was the hottest month on record going back to 1895 for Texas as a whole," said John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas State Climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

Texas is at the heart of another major problem: drought.

"The past 10 months have been the driest 10 consecutive months on record," Nielson-Gammon confirmed.

The Lone Star State now stands at 3 inches below its year-to-date precipitation totals.

"I consider this to be the most sever single-year drought in Texas history," Nielson-Gammon said.

The lack of rain has greatly impacted crops in Texas. The state leads the U.S. in cotton production, producing more than 34 percent of the nation's cotton in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website.

Most dry land crops either failed or produced very low yields, Nielson-Gammon said. Irrigation of crops has been cut back due to the lack of water and the expense attached.

"The extreme heat and unprecedented dry weather are crippling agricultural operations in Texas upon which all Americans rely for food, fuel, clothing and other daily necessities," said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in a press release. "This historic drought has depleted water resources, leaving our state's farmers and ranchers in a state of dire need. The damage to our economy is already measured in billions of dollars and continues to mount."

The affects will be felt across the nation, and will probably last a few years.

"It's going to take a while for us to return to normal levels of production," Nielson-Gammon said.

Texas' chief climatologist said there's no sign the weather pattern will be broken anytime soon.

Drought is currently affecting more than 20 percent of the nation. As of Aug. 2, the U.S. drought monitor recorded parts of 13 states under exceptional or extreme drought.

And the drought may continue through the New Year if recent computer modeling predicting the return of La Niña conditions this winter come true.

Nielson-Gammon, though, isn't putting all his eggs in one basket.

"It's not really clear that we're going to get a La Niña," he said.

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