Humidity is the amount of water vapour in the air. In forecasting, relative humidity describes the percentage of moisture in the air in comparison to how much there is when the air is saturated. The higher the reading, the greater the likelihood of precipitation, dew and fog. Relative humidity is normally highest at dawn, when the temperature is at its lowest point of the day.
High humidity makes people feel hotter than they would on a drier day. That’s because the perspiration that occurs to cool us down cannot evaporate as readily in moist, saturated air. To better describe how hot it feels in such circumstances, Canadian meteorologists developed the humidex, a parameter that combines temperature and humidity in order to reflect the perceived temperature.
Heat and Humidity Safety
It is important to stay safe during such extreme temperatures. Avoid working or exercising intensely if it is very hot or humid outside, and head for cooler conditions if your body becomes overheated. If working outdoors is an absolute necessity, drink plenty of liquids and take frequent rest breaks. Be sure to maintain salt levels in your body and avoid high-protein foods. Also ensure that pets are protected from the heat and have plenty of water to drink. Watch for signs of serious medical conditions, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Relative humidity is the amount of moisture that the air contains compared to how much it could hold at a given temperature. A figure of 100 per cent relative humidity would mean that the air has become saturated. At this point mist, fog, dew and precipitation are likely.
Relative humidity is normally at its maximum when the temperature is at its lowest point of the day, usually at dawn. Even though the absolute humidity may remain the same throughout the day, the changing temperature causes the ratio to fluctuate.
The humidex is a Canadian innovation, that was first used in 1965. It describes how hot, humid weather feels to the average person. The humidex combines the temperature and humidity into one number to reflect the perceived temperature. Because it takes into account the two most important factors that affect summer comfort, it can be a better measure of how stifling the air feels than either temperature or humidity alone.
The humidex is widely used in Canada. However, extremely high readings are rare except in the southern regions of Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec. Generally, the humidex decreases as latitude increases. Of all Canadian cities, Windsor, Ontario has had the highest recorded humidex measurement: 52.1 on June 20, 1953. The hot, humid air masses which cause such uncomfortable weather usually originate in the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean.
Guide to summer comfort
Range of humidex: Degree of comfort
- Less than 29: No discomfort
- 30 to 39: Some discomfort
- 40 to 45: Great discomfort; avoid exertion
- Above 45: Dangerous; Heat stroke possible
An extremely high humidex reading can be defined as one that is over 40. In such conditions, all unnecessary activity should be curtailed. If the reading is in the mid to high 30s, then certain types of outdoor exercise should be toned down or modified, depending on the age and health of the individual, physical shape, the type of clothes worn and other weather conditions.
If working outdoors is an absolute necessity, drink plenty of liquids and take frequent rest breaks. In hot, humid conditions, there is a considerable risk of heat stroke and sun stroke.
During the dog days of summer, remember that animals also feels the heat. When the humidex is high, take special care to ensure that your pet is well-protected from the heat and has plenty of water to drink. Also remember to never leave pets in hot vehicles, even with the window down. On extremely hot days, the inside temperature of a car can be several degrees warmer than the air outside and it is therefore never safe to leave pets or children – even for a few minutes.