Topeka — Kansas health officials warned residents Tuesday to stay hydrated and limit their exposure to the heat as temperatures hit 100 degrees or higher during the next several days.
Three people have died from heat-related illnesses already this year, and more than 240 have become ill, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. An excessive heat warning has been issued for the Lawrence area beginning at noon Wednesday and expiring at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Along with extreme heat, the forecast calls for recent modest winds to dissipate by week's end, increasing concerns about air quality.
Doug Watson, meteorologist for KDHE's air quality department, said cloud cover and winds limit the production of ozone, which can be dangerous for residents with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
"Mostly the folks with pre-existing conditions it affects the most," he said. "But at higher levels, it can even affect healthy people."
In northwest Kansas, residents seeking relief from 100-degree heat flocked to the Colby Aquatic Park. Manager Jill Nech said daily attendance has been more than 400 people, with a few days of more than 700 seeking a cool respite.
"Most of the time we're busy from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.," Nech said. "Most people are staying about two to four hours. We're selling lots of water and ice cream."
The park has two slides and a lazy river, and Nech said many people are just coming out to float around to cool off. Temperatures were back in the 100s on Tuesday and were as high as 110 at the end of June.
"We've got to keep an eye on kids who are in the water quite a bit and to make sure that our guards get breaks, too, every 30 to 45 minutes," she said.
Tom Langer, KDHE's director of the bureau of environmental health, said the danger in extended periods of high heat is that residents let their guard down and become vulnerable to heat injuries. He said people should be drinking enough fluids well in advance of planned outdoor activities, especially sports fans who expect to be watching a ball game for several hours at a time.
"You have to be vigilant," Langer said. "We aren't trying to be alarmists, but the heat can affect people more than they realize."
Residents also can help each other out by checking on elderly neighbors to see that they are staying cool or get them to a shelter for relief, he said.
Officials also encouraged residents to dress properly for the weather and to make sure they have water and a charged phone should their vehicles become disabled in the heat.
Gov. Sam Brownback planned to tour more of the state Wednesday to see the effects of the drought on agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared 82 counties in Kansas federal disaster areas because of the ongoing dry conditions.
Brownback was visiting central and southeastern Kansas this week and plans to tour northwestern counties next week.