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As Utah Heats Up, New Warning System Deployed

The National Weather Service is trying out its "Heat Risk" warning system in Utah. This week's unusually warm temperatures are expected to put it to the test.


It’s the big theme in this week’s weather forecast, as temperatures soar 10 to 15 degrees higher than normal. The National Weather Service has teamed up with local agencies to prepare the public with a new “heat risk” warning program.

“The heat risk is always available on our web site which is,” says Monica Traphagen, an NWS meteorologist.

Traphagen says the new color-coded advisories will help people avoid heat-related hazards -- not just heatstroke but medical conditions made worse by heat, like heart and lung disease.

“We’ll be issuing excessive heat warnings for those red days,” she says, “and then heat advisories for those orange days just so people know when there’s an especially great risk so they can make preparations.”

The National Weather Service has begun offering "heat risk" information. Here's a screen shot of Utah on Monday that includes the latest rating.

Excessive heat is the nation’s single-biggest weather-related killer, claiming around 1,700 lives a year on average.

“The bottom line here is we want people to be aware that high temperatures, particularly with long durations, that it’s dangerous,” says Royal DeLegge of the Salt Lake County Health Department. “And they need to be aware of what the dangers are and what actions they can take individually.”

DeLegge says it’s important for people to cool off, but that is increasingly difficult because of higher nighttime temperatures. A few decades ago, only four nights each summer had nighttime temperatures above 65 degrees. Lately, it’s 24 nights each summer, and that makes it harder for heat-stressed bodies to recover from sweltering days.

In Salt Lake County, there’s an online tool to help people find public places to cool off.

“Basically, all a user has to do is enter their address, use a locate button or click anywhere on the map,” says Emily LaMunyon of the county surveyor’s office, “and a list of the cooling centers will appear.”

An excessive heat warning is in effect now for parts of southern Utah.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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