You can argue whether it's man-made global warming or naturally occurring cyclical climate change, but one thing's for sure: it's hotter than a $2 pistol down here in the South.

According to the National Weather Service, the killer heat wave that started in California last week is rolling across the U.S. and is already affecting the Midwest. Southern and Mid-Atlantic states will begin feeling the effects today and tomorrow. Heat advisories have been issued up and down the East Coast, and for states around the South including North Carolina and South Carolina and portions of Georgia, and Tennessee.

There are also related air quality advisories. As the high-pressure zones trap nitrogen oxide, sulfur, and particulate matter pollution, the intense heat begins to cook off the nitrogen oxide to create ozone, while cars and coal fired power plants operating at peak capacity (all-time record output in the case of TVA) provide raw ingredients for the toxic soup. (See here for a visual example of the results.)

Newspapers in the affected regions are warning residents. From the Durham/Chapel Hill Herald Sun:

If July was the proverbial frying pan, August is arriving as the roaring fire.

The forecasts for today and Wednesday call for highs of at least 100 degrees -- something that just-ended July, for all its swelter, didn't accomplish. The normal high is 89.

Heat indexes today and Wednesday -- a calculation that combines the impact of the heat and humidity on the human skin -- are supposed to top 110 degrees. That's the range in which heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur.

Meanwhile, state officials have issued an air pollution health alert today for the Triangle area.

Forecasters predict Code Orange conditions, meaning the air quality likely will be unhealthy for several groups of people, including children who are active outside, people who work or exercise outdoors, and people with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and other respiratory ailments.

From the Raleigh-Durham News Observer:

Temperatures are expected to reach the upper 90s today under mostly sunny skies. Combined with the humidity, it will feel more like 105 to 110 degrees. The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory in effect from noon to 7 p.m. today, saying the heat and humidity will be especially dangerous for the elderly, young children and those in poor health.

Seniors are particularly at risk:

As 100-degree heat is projected to arrive this week, older people will be especially vulnerable as their hearts and lungs undergo extra stress brought on by the temperatures, said Dr. Jim Larson, emergency department medical director at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

"In general, you have less cardiovascular reserve -- your heart is not able to respond like when you were younger," Larson said.

[..] Few like this level of heat, but older people with chronic diseases and those on certain medications could have particular difficulty adjusting. In California, the heat wave's two-week stay is blamed in the deaths of 164 people, many of them elderly.

[..] People are also urged to check on older friends and neighbors, especially those without air conditioning.

Local officials with the aid of charities take on the problem in a variety of ways, including relief targeted for seniors:

One of the city's long-standing efforts that has proved effective is the city Police Department's Fan the Heat Program, which gives fans and window air-conditioning units to seniors and others.

On Monday, Walker and Ella Scott, a senior whom Walker takes care of, had one delivered to their home.

"It's heartbreaking to see how some people live," said Cpl. Ron Felder, who, along with fellow officers, delivers the fans and units. "But when we come out and install (the units) and they feel that coolness for the first time, it's so rewarding."

Walker's new unit is the 17th the officers have installed this summer. Also, they've delivered about 75 fans to seniors and physically challenged people.

Last year, they delivered 150 fans and 25 air conditioners. If numbers hold, the program is on track to provide more units and fans than in any previous year.

The homeless population also feels the effect of the heat:

Knoxville's homeless population feels the heat perhaps more than anyone else. But area ministries and shelters have a co-operative effort to help shield them from the elements.

"We essentially offer a mercy shelter called Operation White Flag," said David Bryant, director of operations and communications at Knox Area Rescue Mission.

Working with the Volunteer Ministry, they provide a day shelter when temperatures exceed 90 degrees or drop below freezing, Bryant said.

On Sunday evening, the Knox Area Rescue Mission sheltered 200 men and 59 women overnight, even though they only have 200 beds for men and 40 for women.

"With the spikes in temperatures we're seeing winter-like crowds," Bryant said. "Usually we don't have these kinds of numbers in the summer."

Bruce Spangler, vice president of program ministries said people may also receive water and heat education.

"We attempt to educate guests to evacuate heat and hydrate," he said, "We try to remind them of that."

Infants and small children (and family pets) left unattended in cars are also at-risk. Temperatures inside an enclosed automobile can rapidly reach 140 degrees, and serious injury or death can result in a matter of minutes. If you see a small child (or a pet) locked in a car on a hot day, call 9-11 immediately.

(Ed. note: I would never advocate destruction of personal property such as breaking out a car window, but if I saw a distressed infant in a locked car in 90+ degree weather I would let my conscience be my guide).