By MATT MILNER
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Perhaps the only good weather news is that Ottumwa isn't likely to break any records for daytime highs in the coming week. Other than that, it's going to be miserable.
Summer is laughing at people who thought it was losing its grip on southeast Iowa. The first sustained temperatures above 90 degrees arrive in the last week of August with little prospect of relief until at least next week.
The forecast also raises the very real possibility Ottumwa will end August without any additional rainfall. That would bring the month to a close with less than an inch of precipitation and no measurable rain since Aug. 7.
Area residents are less than thrilled. When asked how they planned to stay cool, most answered “air conditioning.” That's exactly the right answer, experts say, along with drinking plenty of liquids and avoiding strenuous activities during the day's heat.
Brandon Holstrom of the American Red Cross said Monday morning there had not yet been a request to open cooling shelters in Ottumwa, but that people need to take the heat seriously.
“We always recommend that people go to the movie theater, the mall, public places that have air conditioning,” he said.
The Red Cross office on East Main Street is also open for people who need to get out of the heat.
A number of area schools dismissed early on Monday, including Centerville, Fairfield and Pella, among others. The early dismissals seem likely to continue given the forecast. Highs in the mid- to upper 90s are well above the lower 80s we generally see this time of year. A heat advisory is in effect for the entire state.
Jim Lee of the National Weather Service's Des Moines Office said high temperatures Monday and Tuesday will be near 100 degrees for much of Iowa. It will cool off after that but not by much. Temperatures in the 90s are expected to remain in place at least through next weekend.
Lee wrote a summary for the NWS Des Moines website calling the emergence of a strong heat wave in late August unusual but not unprecedented.
“In 1976, a heat wave peaked on September 6-7 when temperatures reached as high as 103 degrees at LeMars. Amazingly, a strong cold front swept across Iowa a couple of days later, and on the morning of the 10th frost was reported in the lowlands with freezing temperatures at a few locations,” he wrote.
What is unusual isn't just the timing of the heat wave. Des Moines will almost certainly see four consecutive days with highs of 95 degrees or hotter for the first time since 1955. Ottumwa is expected to see three consecutive days above 95 beginning Monday.
Those are dangerous temperatures for those who spend a prolonged time outside, especially if the exposure includes strenuous activities.
People should be aware of how the heat affects them and stay out of the sun when possible. Drink lots of fluids and reschedule activities into the evening or early morning when possible.