Many of us endure the few stretches of excessive summer heat with the same resolve we muster when Minnesota winters turn dangerously cold. It also helps to live and work in air-­conditioned space, of course, or at least to have access to cooled public spaces during the worst heat of the day.

But for those without AC who are unable to seek shelter ­­­­— especially the young, the elderly and disabled, and pets — the sweltering temperature readings now being recorded across the state can cause heat-related illnesses and exacerbate existing health conditions.

Although more unusual weather events tend to get louder news media attention, heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, causing hundreds of deaths annually, according to the National Weather Service. More than 1,250 people died nationwide in the heat wave of 1980, and in 1995 more than 700 deaths in Chicago were blamed on the heat. An estimated 50,000 people died as Europe recorded record high temperatures in 2003.

With high humidity and temperatures in the low- to upper 90s, the Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning through today for the Twin Cities metro area and a heat advisory for much of the rest of the state. Warnings are issued for conditions “posing a threat to life,” while advisories reflect conditions that can cause “significant discomfort or inconvenience and, if caution is not taken, could lead to a threat to life,” according to the Weather Service website.

One sure threat to children, the disabled and pets is being left in a parked car or truck. Dozens of people and many pets die in vehicles each year from hyperthermia — often even if windows are left slightly open. The Weather Service reports that a car left in the sun on even an 80-degree day can reach an unsafe 94.3 degrees in just over two minutes, 99 degrees in 10 and 123 degrees in an hour.

Keep an eye open for people and pets possibly trapped in parked vehicles. Check on the elderly neighbor without air conditioning who lives alone. Remember that children warm at faster rates than adults and may not know when they’re in danger.

The potentially dangerous weather conditions Minnesotans will face over the next several days will pass more safely if we all exercise a little extra vigilance.