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STORMS LOOSEN GRIP OF MUGGY SPELL

Hot and humid weather disappeared with a bang and a flash early today, as a line of thunderstorms chased July's muggiest days right off the calendar.

Cooler, drier weather was expected to fill in behind the front that swept through Western New York early today with thunder, lightning, gusty winds and occasionally heavy rain.

Daytime highs in the 70s, blue skies and overnight lows in the 50s are forecast in the wake of the storms, ending a siege of days rated triple H -- for hot, hazy and humid.

Officially, the temperature Sunday didn't even break the 80-degree mark. The high was only 79, a far cry from the 90 in Elmira or the 91 in Binghamton. What made it sticky and uncomfortable was the steam-bath effect -- the high moisture level in the air.

"With higher humidity, the normal cooling process through evaporation doesn't cool your body down," said meteorologist Judy Levan of the National Weather Service office at Greater Buffalo International Airport.

"What we use to measure it is the heat index, which is the opposite of the wind chill," Ms. Levan notes. "When it gets into the mid-80s, you have to start taking precautions. Out in the Midwest, they've been having heat indices of over 100."

"Fortunately," she added, "we have a natural air-conditioner out there called Lake Erie, and we get a cooling flow of air."

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