As local temperatures shoot into the triple digits for the second week in a row, don’t be afraid to crank up the air conditioning.  According to a press release from Dominion Power, Northern Virginians increased our energy consumption by 55% over a year ago in June.  However, with energy needs declining in the economic downturn, the power company has also lowered rates by 28% over the same timeframe with the latest rate decrease going into effect on July 1.

Not only is cooling your home or office cheaper than a year ago, but it could also save your life.  The Washington Examiner reported last Friday that 10 people have died in the D.C. region for heat-related reasons so far this year, and even Senator Robert Byrd first checked into the hospital with symptoms of heat exhaustion.  After complications caused by his frail health, he passed away and was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery this morning.

Sadly, air conditioning cannot cure disease as its inventor once hoped.  The Centers for Disease Control provides recommendations for extreme heat, and although air conditioning can help cool you down in an emergency, it works most effectively if you stay inside during the day.  If you must go outside, drink plenty of water.  Don’t wait until you start to feel the symptoms of heat exhaustion such as dizziness, headaches, nausea or muscle aches.  By then, it could be too late.

Longtime residents of the Washington area may be tempted to boast to Arizonans that a dry 100-degree day in Phoenix is nothing compared to a 100-degree day here with 30% humidity and a corresponding heat index of 104 degrees.  But extreme heat is a serious and life-threatening matter, even for otherwise healthy people.  After a few more scorchers like today, we will all be praying for a return of last winter’s blizzards.