We’re Hotter than Chicago Today, but They’re Under an Excessive Heat Warning. Why?

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Bless the poor folks in the frozen tundra of Chicago.

While we sit here in Florida with our usual weather (like Hell but with a broken thermostat), Chicago and a large swath of the country are getting a not-quite-as-rare-as-it-used-to-be chance to experience Florida Summer at its finest. A giant portion of the country is sitting under heat advisories, excessive heat watches, and excessive heat warnings.

For comparison:

Orlando, FL: High 94. Heat Index up to 105.

Chicago, IL: High 89. Heat Index up to 98.

St Louis, MO: High 98. Heat Index up to 110.

Indianapolis, IN: High 95. Heat Index up to 107.

Of course, this all raises a question… if we have a heat index up to 105, and Chicago has one of “only” 98… then why are they under an excessive heat warning while Orlando is under “Thursday”? The answer lies in simply: what are folks used to?

Let’s flip the script. Chicago can take snowfall like a champ. They’re used to the cold, and they’re used to snow. Meanwhile, in my motherland of Georgia (the state), an inch of snow is enough to shut us down for a few days. Flip that around. Floridians are used to the heat. That doesn’t mean we like it… but dang it, we’re used to it.

That’s why the National Weather Service allows for a bit of leeway in the criteria for things like Excessive Heat Warnings and Heat Advisories. The standard criteria for an Excessive Heat Warning is one of two things…

  • Heat Index of 105+ for 3+ hours each day, at least two days in a row, or
  • Heat Index of 115+ for any amount of time

But the local NWS offices are allowed to adjust that criteria based on how common such temperatures are in their area. And given that there are likely still some places in that part of the country that still don’t even have air conditioning because they rarely need it, an extended heat wave can quite literally be deadly.

An interesting side effect of this is that those who travel to the central Florida attractions from other areas may not be used to Florida’s unique (that’s putting it politely) climate, and underestimate the life force draining power of an August afternoon in Orlando. But there’s not much of a solution to tailor just to those folks. You can’t really have a “Tourists Will Melt Advisory.” So the best thing you can do is put out advisories and alerts when conditions are out of the ordinary for what the area would normally see, and hope that people do their research.

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