Weather conditions are more than just hot or cold, dry or wet, windy or still.
With all of the different conditions interacting with each other, there are many factors that affect how you actually “feel” when you’re outside. Perhaps more importantly, it’s crucial to know what conditions, when combined, can create a situation where your health and safety are at risk.
A great example is the old adage “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” A person who is suffering on a dry, but 110-degree day in Arizona might scoff at this saying, but there is some truth to it. Specifically, moisture in the air reduces your body’s ability to cool itself through sweating. So, the higher the humidity, the hotter it feels. And in extreme cases of high heat and humidity, the safety of you and your family can become a consideration.
It’s because of this phenomenon that the “heat index” calculation was invented.
Heat index is based on any temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) or above, combined with the relative humidity (%RH). Simply put, an 80-degree day will feel like 80 degrees when there is 40% humidity. But as the moisture level increases, the temperature you feel will also rise.
For example, on an 80-degree day, a 60% relative humidity will create a heat index of 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius). Increase that to 80% relative humidity, and the perceived temperature rises to 84 (29 degrees Celsius).
As you can see, at cooler temperatures, humidity isn’t that large of a factor. But when it’s very hot outside, humidity can really make a big difference in how you feel. For example, on a 100-degree Fahrenheit day (38 degrees Celsius), a relatively low 40% humidity already raises the heat index to 109 (42 degrees Celsius). At 55% humidity, you’re feeling a scorching (and dangerous) heat index of 124 degrees Fahrenheit (51 degrees Celsius).
To get a better idea of how heat index works, the National Weather Service published this very helpful Heat Index Calculator.
To help you stay safe and comfortable, many weather products track humidity and provide heat index calculations among their host of helpful insights.