Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TOP STORY >> Sizzling heat blazing on— relief far off

Leader staff writer

Tuesday’s triple-digit high made it four 100 degree-plus days in a row, 15 in July and 21 for the summer.

It would be eight days in a row, save for a 99-degree high on Friday.

Of the 21 100-degree or more days this summer, nine were all-time record setters, including Tuesday’s 107 degrees and Monday’s 111, according to the National Weather Service.

Monday’s high of 111- degrees was the third hottest day ever recorded in central Arkansas, surpassed only by the 114-degree high of Aug. 3, 2011, and the 112 degrees on July 31, 1986.

What do you do when it is 111 degrees outside?

“I just soldier through it,” said Joshua Heagerty of Heagerty Lawn Care and Sprinkler service of Cabot.

The hot dry weather has 99.7 percent of the state under some level of drought conditions and 33.6 percent of the state, including central Arkansas, is in the “exceptional” drought level, which is the highest or worse category.

The weather service forecast calls for triple-digit temperatures at least through Sunday with just a very small chance of sporadic thunderstorms.

One place people can escape from the brutal heat is the cooling center inside Cabot American Legion Post 71. Five people stopped by there over the past couple weeks.

The cooling center at the Cabot mini-mall, 208 N. First St., is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Elderly residents can get cooled down at the Jack Evans Senior Center in Sherwood or at the Senior Activity and Wellness Center in Jacksonville.

But Don Hindman, director of the center in Sherwood, said fewer seniors are coming in because they are staying home to avoid the heat.

“A lot of them have said it’s much worse than what they’re used to,” Hindman said.

Some people can’t stay inside because their jobs require them to be outdoors, but they are coping by working different shifts.

Cabot WaterWorks general manager Tim Joyner said all maintenance workers are coming in an hour earlier to work at 7 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m.

Brian Galloway, public works director for Sherwood, said his street and drainage crews are coming in at 6 a.m. so they can get their work done by early afternoon.

After lunchtime the workers have been training indoors, Galloway said.

Beebe street department supervisor Jim Greer said work hours changed from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The heat is also forcing crews to slow down and drink more liquids.

Cabot Water foreman Eric Hirschy was working with a crew replacing a water service line. He said he tells his co-workers to drink plenty of water and don’t overdo it. They pace themselves.

Beebe street department crews have been drinking lots of water and Gatorade.

Kevin House, Jacksonville Parks and Recreation maintenance manager, said his department is providing employees who have to work outside with water and Gatorade. Workers are encouraged to take extra breaks.

Jimmy Oakley, director of Jacksonville’s Public Works Department said his employees are working on asphalt that can be 140 degrees or hotter.

He said ice water is available and workers are told to take breaks in the shade when they get too hot.

Oakley said every employee knows the signs of heat exhaustion, so they can watch out for each other.

“Thus far we’ve been very fortunate nobody has been injured due to the heat,” he said.

Galloway and House also said their departments haven’t had any medical incidents because of the heat.

Cabot assistant fire chief Mark Smart said key for firefighters during the intense heat is to stay hydrated during the day before going to fires and trying to catch up. He said firefighters are still working in the engine bays. It is important to stay acclimated to the hot weather.

Cabot fire captain David Walton said every morning a water jug on each fire truck is filled with ice and water. When a wildfire burned at the Hwy. 89 overpass last week, the fire department set up a portable canopy for shade and had cooling fans running off generators.

Reviewing the current heat wave -— on July 21 it hit 108, breaking the record of 105 set in 1974; on July 20 it was 105, breaking the record of 104 set in 2006, on July 6 it was a balmy 107, besting the old record of 104 set in 1998; and July 5’s 102-degree high tied with the same record setting temperature from 1954.

But it just didn’t start getting hot in July; June had five 100-degree-days with two record setters. On top of the heat, the month was also the driest June in 20 years with less than an inch of rainfall.

On June 30, the temperature hit 103, tying the record from 1931 and 1894, and on July 29 it hit 106 degrees, breaking the old record of 105 set in 1988.

But it was June 28 that most people will remember. When it hit 107 degrees, it became the hottest June day ever recorded in central Arkansas—and records have been kept since 1894. June 15th’s high temperature of 105 tied the record for the hottest June Day ever, set back in 1988 and 1936.

However, even with all those hot June days, the month was not the hottest on record, in fact, it was the coolest June in three years. What helped was that prior to the 100-degree days at the end of the month, June had been relatively cool.

July, however, is another picture, through Tuesday the average high temperature for the month was 99.5 degrees, about six degrees below the 30-year average.

Sarah Campbell and Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.