ARLINGTON, VA — Summer temperatures are rising into the 90s with Florida-like weather blanketing the South and parts of the East as hot air parches much of the West, prompting a spike in air conditioner shipments and use of a new technique from the National Weather Service to warn citizens of advancing heat waves, notes the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI).

Weather forecasters this year are using the Mean Heat Index, a measure of how hot a person actually feels over the course of a day. It differs from the traditional Heat Index in that it is an average of the hottest and coldest times of each day. A reading over 85 is considered dangerous, giving the public and government officials a warning that could prevent heat-related deaths.

Excessive heat claimed 219 lives last year, more than floods, tornadoes, lightning, and hurricanes combined. “Heat waves kill with silence,” says Jim Hoke, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Hydrometeorological Prediction Center in Camp Springs, MD. “Intense heat can creep up on its victims, because it doesn’t have the loud, crash-and-bang of a hurricane or tornado. Its average death toll, however, is much worse.”

It’s not surprising that June is the peak month for shipments of central air conditioners, according to the ARI, as contractors and distributors respond to increased demand for what can be life-saving equipment during extreme heat.

For the first five months of 2002, ARI reported that factories shipped 3,035,366 central air conditioners and heat pumps, an increase of 6% over the same period last year. With shipments expected to meet or exceed 900,000 units in June, the industry by the end of 2002 will likely eclipse last year’s total of 6,281,443, including a record 1,442,355 heat pumps. A new record appears likely for heat pumps in 2002, with shipments up 7% during the January through May period.

The upturn in shipments comes as a report by the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies projects strong growth in immigrant and minority households, resulting in 22 million more homeowners in the next 20 years. Released June 25, the report says, “The housing sector is poised to set new records for production, sales, and aggregate home equity in the years ahead.”

Housing starts through May nationwide are up 4.4% over last year.

Historically low interest rates have buoyed the housing market with new home sales rising 8.1% in May. In the U.S., more than 85% of single-family homes are built with central air conditioning. With an estimated 60-70 million units in service, the industry is poised to deliver tens of millions of replacement units over the coming decade.

ARI is the trade association representing manufacturers of more than 90% of North American-produced central air conditioning and commercial refrigeration equipment. For more information, visit

Publcation date: 07/01/2002