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Beware The Air

If misery loves company, folks in Dallas, where it hit 105 degrees Saturday, have plenty. A Texas-style heat wave has left Americans gasping for relief under heat advisories in 23 states, reports CBS News Correspondent Maggie Cooper.

"We have a real heat pump that is centered right in the heartland of the nation, and going all around this big heat pump is what we call a ring of fire," explains CBS News Meteorologist Craig Allen.

In upstate New York, the blistering sun and high humidity are to blame for 1,000 cases of heat-related illness among the 200,000 people attending Woodstock's 30th anniversary concert. And heat's not the only problem.

"Every little weather system that tries to push down out of Canada seems to be touching off intense thunderstorms this year," Allen says.

In Michigan this week, winds of nearly 70 mph toppled trees, flipped boats and ripped the siding off Tiger Stadium. Fierce summer storms have also damaged crops in Ohio and put parts of Detroit underwater.

Add air pollution to the mix and summer in the city can be risky, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan.

In Washington D.C., the air got so thick it choked off buildings and swallowed planes. The picture was the same along the East Coast, with hazy skies making the air unsightly - and unsafe to breathe.

Health warnings were issued across the country. And in New York, Vice President Gore announced there would be more to come.

"Parents will soon hear on TV or radio specific warning when the air is dangerous for those with asthma," he says. "And incidentally, it is today in New York City!"

A new Air Quality Index unveiled Saturday will provide specific new warnings for sensitive groups like those with asthma and other respiratory problems. It will require the same format nationwide, suggesting precautions for those who suffer most.

"This is gonna hone in on the people who really face a deadly threat," Gore says. "If they need that information, they ought to have it, and now the will have it."

The new warnings are especially aimed at young people. Respiratory problems sent some 100,000 children to emergency rooms last year, a number that has more than doubled over the last 15 years.

Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. treats about 20 of these kids a day, and doctors there welcome the new warnings.

"It should make a difference," says Dr. Daniel Ochsenschlager. "You know, I think certainly the heat and all these things combined - heat pollution, a lot of exercise, getting dehydrated - I think it has to have an effect on children that have asthma."

It's the first time the index has been updated in 23 years. The new system may help some breathe a little easier until August, when some predict the dog days of summer may finally lose their bite.