Coping with Summer

THE two-day weather forecast in Washington last week went like this: Day 1 - Sunny, sweltering, high 98. Day 2 - Sunny, hot, humid, high 98.

While New England and other regions have seen some relief from the heat in the past few days, across much of the country, heat and humidity are still front-page news. On Saturday, the temperature rose above 90 degrees in Richmond, Va., for a record 26th day in a row. In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley declared a heat emergency last week as the mercury headed into the high 90s. Two weeks earlier, a heat wave that peaked at 106 degrees was blamed for the deaths of about 500 people.

While most people have found ways around the heat (taking refuge in malls and movie theaters, for example), Chicago officials went a step further. Criticized for being slow to respond to soaring temperatures, the city seemed determined to learn from that experience.

Last week city employees called 120,000 people to give them pointers on staying cool. Police went door to door, talking to residents without telephones. Chicago also opened 68 "cooling centers." Health department vans provided transportation there.

Temperatures in Chicago ad- mittedly didn't rise as high as they did earlier (and this week are predicted to be in the relatively cool 80s). But it's worth noting that not a single death was attributed to the heat last week.

The public should be commended too. Chicago's fire commissioner said people have been more vigilant about looking in on their neighbors. A good example for us all as we make our way through whatever remains of the steamy days of summer.

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