By Jeff Fox

Today and Saturday could bring the most intense heat the area has experienced in weeks. The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory from noon today through 7 p.m. Saturday.

Officials remind everyone to take it easy if outdoors and to drink plenty of water. Make sure never to leave children or pets alone in a vehicle, and make sure outdoor pets have adequate shade and water.

The Weather Service predicts highs today and Saturday in the upper 90s. The heat index – a measure of heat combined with relative humidity – could reach 105. Those who overdo it when outdoors and those who can’t get to an air-conditioned space for at least a couple hours a day can be susceptible to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke, which in extreme circumstances can be fatal.

Those with outdoor work to do are advised to work in the cooler parts of the day, to wear light, loose-fittiing and light-colored clothing, to take frequent breaks and drink lots of water.

The Weather Service forecast for Eastern Jackson County:

• Today, sunny with a high near 98 and a heat index around 102. There will be a warm breeze out of the southwest at 6 to 13 mph. Clear tonight, low 75.

• Sunny and 97 again Saturday with a light wind. Partly cloudy in the evening, with a low around 77 and a 30 percent chance of thundershowers.

• A break comes Sunday, with a high of 91 and a 30 percent chance of thundershowers. Low around 67.

• Labor Day looks like the coolest day in a week, with a high of 84 under sunny skies.

The Weather Service also says drought is intensifying across the northern half of the state, including Jackson County.

An area of roughly a dozen counties including the cities of Bethany, Kirksville and Brookfield is now classified as being in severe drought, the third highest rating on the Weather Service’s five-step drought scale. Surrounding those counties is larger area – with Maryville, Liberty, Marshall and Hannibal – of “moderate drought,” and that area includes a slice of northeastern Jackson County, with Bucker, Sibley and Levasy.

Then, an “abnormally dry” area runs on the edge of the moderate-drought area. It’s all or parts of about 20 counties, from Tarkio to St. Joseph to most of Jackson County to Warrensburg and Sedalia and east to Columbia, Fulton and St. Louis.

After 2012 went into the books as the third driest year on record in Kansas City, 2013 started off wetter, but it’s been particularly dry this summer. Since June 1, just 7.74 inches of rain – 59 percent of normal – has been recorded at Kansas City International Airport, where the area’s official records are kept.