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Extreme Weather - USA

GLIDE CODE: ST-20060711-6742-USA
Date & Time: 2006.07.11 - 11:44:57
Area: USA North Carolina, , Charlotte ( MAP)


Monday might not have felt like the hottest day of the summer, but for sun worshippers in the Charlotte region, it was the most dangerous one. For the first time this year, Charlotte's UV index, a measure of ultraviolet rays reaching the earth, hit an 11 on a 13-point scale. That put us in the "Extreme," or highest, category of danger. It's forecast to be between 10 and 11 again today and Wednesday, meteorologists say. In those conditions, just 10 minutes outdoors at midday can mean a sunburn for people with sensitive skin. And that, say medical experts, increases the threat of contracting skin cancer. "This is the worst time of year, because of the angle of the sun -- our sunlight is more direct," said Jason Samenow, a climate analyst with the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. And Monday's low humidity added another danger. Because we weren't sweating as much, our bodies thought it was cooler, leading to the temptation to stay outdoors longer. The average! UV index for a July day in Charlotte is 8.

Last summer, the region had only three days with 11 readings and just two the previous year. So why is it so bad right now? Blame three converging factors: a lower-than-normal amount of ozone over the Carolinas at the moment, a lack of clouds, and the calendar (the most direct sunlight is at or near the summer solstice, June 21). Clouds and the ozone layer reflect some of the ultraviolet rays back into space. The less ozone and clouds, the higher the sun's threat. Actually, Charlotte's 11 reading was not the worst in the United States. Parts of Florida and Hawaii scored 12s. Regardless of what the UV index is, people should always wear sunscreen, said Peggy Fuller, a dermatologist who owns Esthetics, a dermatology center in Charlotte. Those who work or play outside should wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which provides about 95 percent protection, Fuller said. An SPF 15 blocks about 90 percent of the rays, she said. Recently, Fuller said, she's noticed an increase ! in basal cell carcinoma (a slow-growing cancer) among African Americans, Latinos and Asians. It's the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for more than 90 percent of cases nationwide, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And about half of all Americans who live to 65 will have skin cancer at least once, according to the foundation. "We live in the Sun Belt," she said. "If it's not completely dark outside, we're all getting sun."