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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Weather Service Warns Of Dangerous Heat Wave In Western Montana

National Weather Service, Missoula

The National Weather Service warns an intense and prolonged heat wave will bring dangerously hot temperatures to western Montana this weekend.

"I am not hesitant to use the word 'historic' for this event," Weather Service meteorologist Dan Zumpf explained.

Zumpf says an inbound high pressure system will heat things up by Thursday. Highs will climb into the mid to upper 90's by Saturday and crack the century mark by Sunday.

"And it's not just a quick heat wave, you know, one or two days. It looks like we're going to see this almost through the middle of next week."

These temperatures will be more in line with those of late July or even August. Zumpf points out we've rarely - if ever - experienced these kind of predicted temperatures in June.

"To give you historical context, Missoula has only hit 100 degrees in June a few times throughout history. We're talking about a record going back to the 1890s/late 1880s. Kalispell has never seen a 100 degree temperature in June before. Their hottest previously had been 96 degrees."

Even nighttime temperatures won't provide much relief with lows dipping only into the mid to upper 60s.

Dr. Brian Kelleher is an emergency physician at Hamilton's Marcus Daly Hospital. Kelleher says Montana's relatively low humidity can be doubled-edged sword. It makes the hot days feel less oppressive than places with very humid climates.

But according to Kelleher, "it also puts us at risk of increased insensible loss of fluids. Since we don't feel the perspiration as much we don't get the impression that we're losing much in the way of our body fluid volume. But we're very prone to dehydration with extended exposure to high heat days and low humidity."

Heat-related illness is a serious concern. Kelleher says heat-stress basically comes in three forms. Heat exhaustion:

"Exceptional fatigue (and) decreased energy level that's associated with prolonged exposure to heat, especially if one is exerting."

The next level of severity is heat cramps:

"Where you have the same symptoms as heat exhaustion, but you also have muscular pain and muscular cramping."

And of most concern is heat stroke which Kelleher describes as a true medical emergency:

"Heat stroke presents with a person who has an altered level of consciousness. They may be confused. They may have a near coma state. When we see those folks they have an elevated body temperatures, sometimes as high as 107 degrees."

Doctor Kelleher says the elderly are at the greatest risk during intense heat waves. That's because they typically have a tougher time regulating their temperatures.

"Some of our elderly folks will turn off or turn down the air conditioner because they're not perceiving that it's hot even when they have fairly high indoor ambient temperatures."

He says good hydration is a must during extremely hot temperatures. Expensive sports and energy drinks aren't necessary. Plenty of cool tap water will do the trick. Keep your head covered and cool. Exercise only during the cooler early morning or evening hours.

The same principles apply to pets. Keep them well-hydrated and cool. Exercising dogs in extreme heat could prove to be a deadly mistake, as could even a very brief wait in a hot car.

The hot weather forecast is also being closely monitored by wildland fire officials. They say fine fuels are already drying out at an alarming pace. The National Weather Service says long range models indicate a possibility of dry lightning followed by strong winds early next week.

Jordan Koppen of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation's Southwestern Land Office:

"We're trying to get people to be extremely careful with chainsaws and lawn mowers hitting rocks, causing sparks, dragging chains when hauling trailers, keeping up with trailer maintenance. It's definitely a big concern this year. It's super dry. We're a month ahead."

The public is asked to be extremely careful with fireworks this Fourth of July. Prayer lanterns, sometimes called sky lanterns, are popular at wedding and memorial services. Those glowing paper balloons use candle heat to rise into the sky. DNRC says they're also a fire hazard and their use is now strictly prohibited.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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