We’ve all been there, especially in July or August when the temperature soars to 115 degrees—or higher. We tell ourselves that it’s a dry heat as if that makes the temperature go down. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, or possibly, it is a dry heat, and that makes a big difference. Ask anyone from San Antonio or Houston what 100 degrees Fahrenheit in their town feels like in the summer and you’ll soon start thinking that something is wacky with the thermometer. That something is known as The Heat Index.

The Heat Index scale is used to measure the moisture or humidity in the air. When there is more moisture in the air, the temperature feels hotter than it actually is in real life. Not to confuse matters, but it is similar to, but the reverse of measuring moisture in the air in the winter and referring to it as the wind chill factor. Most people don’t understand the effect of moisture in the air (humidity) in respect to temperature. That’s why when we call our friends up on the east coast during the summer and tell them the temperature is 115 degrees outside, they think we’re crazy for living here.  If you’ve ever lived on the east coast and survived 90 degrees weather with 90 % humidity, then you’re okay to say that people are crazy for living there!

Dry heat is most often experienced in the west, particularly the desert southwest, as in Lake Havasu. Lack of moisture in the air accounts for our low humidity, lack of clouds, and abundant sunshine. That’s why, when weather patterns shift and we experience the monsoon season, not only do we have more clouds and precipitation, but the humidity goes up—and that can feel uncomfortable. The measure of humidity on the heat index scale is based on percentages. The higher the humidity, the higher the heat index. Humid heat is the miserable heat that “feels heavy.” This is the reason that the temperature “feels” hotter when the percentage of the humidity is higher.

When it is humid out and there is a high percentage of humidity, or moisture in the air, the body’s ability to cool down through sweating is hindered. Many people don’t think that we sweat much in Havasu in the summer, but that’s not true. The fact that the air is so dry is why we don’t appear to sweat. Our sweat evaporates into the air that can hold the excess moisture. Conversely, in humid regions, the air is so saturated with moisture that it can’t absorb any more, so our sweat just pours out of our bodies. And not noticing that we sweat in the dry climate in the summer can be very dangerous to our health. We can become severely dehydrated and can suffer some serious health effects. The high temperatures we experience can set us up for heat exhaustion; the pre-requisite of a heat stroke, involving our body’s initial shock reflex of too much exposure to the heat. Heat stroke is much more serious and can be deadly when exposed to long periods of extreme heat—the type of heat we have here all summer long. Prolonged exposure to heat causing cessation of sweating, followed by an increase in body temperature to above 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, can unconsciousness. Children, pregnant women, individuals with underlying health issues, and the elderly are especially susceptible to heat stroke.

There are number of safety tips that need to be followed if you’re going to survive being out in the dry, desert heat. First, make sure you drink plenty of liquids. A person walking around in the heat of Lake Havasu on a summer day can lose as much as a quart of water per hour, and more if overly active. Secondly, when you begin to lose too much water, your body can heat up faster causing you to suffer from heat exhaustion. Initial symptoms include nausea, dizziness, and lack of sweat (from dehydration). With continued exposure to heat, other symptoms include ringing in the ears, headache, and loss of muscle control. Upon noticing the first symptom, get out of the heat and replenish the body’s water immediately.

We all feel fortunate to live in the beautiful desert southwest, but we do have to be prepared to deal with the harsh, extreme heat. And don’t think that if you’re in the lake all day that you can’t get dehydrated—that’s just not true. Just remember that when the heat cranks up to drink plenty of fluids and get out of the sun if you have any symptoms of dehydration. With some simple precautions we can enjoy the great outdoors, even in the heat to summer. So the next time someone questions your sanity about living in Havasu in the summer, smile, take a sip of water, and don’t forget to tell them, “It’s a dry heat!”