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Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Kayla Patton, 12, plunges down a water slide Friday at McMillen Park pool. Experts say the heat can have an effect on a person’s mood.

Unbearably HOT

Weather can fry emotions, mental state

Janiya Miller, 11, goes for a swim at McMillen Park pool. Temperatures today could hit 105 degrees.

Irritability … Agitation … Anxiety.

The heat outside can absolutely mess with your head, and with more of it expected today, everyone – health experts, weather experts, government officials, the media – are issuing warnings to be safe.

Friday’s temperature peaked at 101 degrees – a record for July 6.

It’s also the third consecutive day in Fort Wayne that the temperature reached into triple digits. It’s only the fifth time that’s happened since 1897, when records started being kept on the city’s weather.

The city has never had four consecutive days with 100-degree heat, but the forecast today calls for temperatures to possibly reach as high as 105, according to the National Weather Service.

By nightfall, temperatures might get down into the 80s.

But until then, experts repeat and stress the following critical steps: Stay in the air conditioning, if possible; drink water; if you must be outside, take frequent breaks and find some shade.

“If your body starts telling you to get out of the sun, get out of the sun,” said Mike Sabones, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service office in Syracuse. “This is pretty dangerous stuff.”

And it’s not just dangerous for the meat of your body. It doesn’t just make you pass out or suffer from heat stroke or any number of other health maladies.

It attacks your psyche, too.

Have you noticed people being a little more anxious lately?

Or maybe they’re a little crankier?

Or maybe you’re the cranky one?

That’s not unusual in this weather. According to psychiatrists, it really can play havoc with your emotional and mental state.

“It’s something we’ve heard from several people today,” said Dr. Jay Fawver, a Fort Wayne psychiatrist who hosts “Matters of the Mind” on WFWA-TV Channel 39 and heads up the Fawver Wellness Center, on Friday. “A lot of these people are bothered by this heat and are affected emotionally.”

Fawver said it starts with sleeping.

People’s bedrooms aren’t cool enough, he said, especially those without air conditioning. The body likes to cool down on its own when it sleeps. But it has trouble doing so if it’s in a room with temperatures above the high 60s.

“You just can’t get a good depth of sleep,” Fawver said.

People are waking up already irritable.

Then they go outside and it gets worse: They sweat and lose sodium; they quickly become exhausted; their heart rate increases; they become dehydrated.

All of that combined can heighten people’s agitation or depression, Fawver said.

“The best thing you can do is get to a cool environment somehow or someway,” Fawver said.

Just going through the list of emotional stress symptoms caused by the heat, it’s no surprise to researchers that crime – statistically at least – appears to rise during the summer months in much of the country.

Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows that more crimes are reported in July and August than in any other months. Two years ago, an analysis of local crime data by The Journal Gazette showed Fort Wayne police received 30 percent more calls for service during days in the summer than normal.

Last month, Jerry McKean, a criminal justice professor at Ball State University, talked about the “aggravation hypothesis.”

The hypothesis states that heat is a form of stress, and humans who are in stress react with aggression.

End result: Crime goes up.

But McKean said researchers believe there is a plateau to this aggression caused by heat, that temperatures get so hot that it no longer affects the crime rate. Basically, it gets too hot to do anything.

What that temperature is too hot?

“Nobody really knows,” McKean said.

So, again, it’s recommended that you find a way to stay cool and avoid getting angry or agitated.

Fawver recommended the city’s cooling centers, or finding some public places that have air conditioning if needed. Sabones, with the National Weather Service, said use common sense – wear light clothing, drink liquids, get out of the sun.

“Nobody should take this lightly,” he said.

And weather the proverbial storm, because once the weather breaks as it’s expected tonight, we shouldn’t see 100 again for a while, according to Sabones.

Temperatures will be normal for the summertime – something Sabones called a “step in the right direction” – but we’ll still be in the midst of one of the hottest years on record.

It started back with record heat in March, and so far this year, our average daily temperature is 51.9 degrees.

And if the heat wave continues, we’ll break 1921’s record for hottest year in Fort Wayne history, when the average temperature was 50.7 degrees.

“This whole year has been unusual,” Sabones said.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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