It’s too hot to trot

Published 12:01 am Sunday, August 7, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Cathedral athletic trainer Sarah Garrity gives Thomas Garrity a drink a water during Cathedral High School’s football practice Thursday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — Even lifelong Southerners who know better than to whine about the heat have taken note lately; and for good reason, according to unofficial numbers from the National Weather Service.

The average temperature in Natchez this summer ranks 2011 in the top 10 hottest summers ever.

Of course those numbers — gathered from June and July — don’t account for the scalding first week of August that slowed outdoor work, increased hospital visits, forced schoolchildren inside and baked any bare feet brave enough to try a dash to the pool.

Email newsletter signup

Temperatures hit 99 this week and stayed in the mid 80s even after the sun went down. Heat indexes ranged between 108 and 111 at the hottest point of the days.

Roger Allen uses a water bottle to cool off while taking a break from cutting grass on Hampton Court in Natchez Saturday afternoon.

Contractor Paul Vaughan has worked outside through Southwest Mississippi summers since he was 14.

“Usually it’s not as bad as this,” Vaughan said Friday.

His Cole’s Creek Construction crew of four has been working on a church on Cemetery Road for several weeks, putting on a metal roof and painting.

“At times the old roof and the new roof are so hot you can’t touch them,” he said. “And you can’t put paint on when a building is that hot. It will bubble.”

So Vaughan’s crew has adopted a new schedule for the time being, though it’s not one anyone is fond of.

Work begins early in the morning — as early as 5:30 a.m. on some days — stops at approximately 10:30 a.m. and begins again at 5:30 or 6 p.m.

“The guys hate that because it takes away their morning and their night,” Vaughan said. “But you can’t do it in the middle of the day.”

Though it may be rough on morale, the crew is doing exactly what they should do, Natchez Community Hospital Emergency Room Nurse Arnie Perkins said.

Though work can’t stop entirely during hot summers, those working can be careful, he said.

“You should take frequent breaks, coming in and cooling off and drinking liquids,” Perkins said. “As much time spent outside needs to be spent inside. Treat your day like a 50-50 proposition.”

The body can take temperatures up to 85 or 90, Perkins said, but when temperatures exceed that limit, your body can’t keep up.

Though Perkins said Natchez Community has not seen an increased number of heat-related illnesses in the last two weeks, the story is different at Natchez Regional Medical Center.

Neely Greene, a registered nurse who is director of the emergency room, said NRMC has seen a significant increase in cases recently.

“We have had several per week, that’s at least five per week,” Greene said. “People are not taking breaks; they are pushing through and working.”

Heat-related illnesses that can lead to hospital visits include dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

But all three illnesses can be prevented,” Greene said.

“People never think to hydrate before going out in the heat,” she said. “Hydrate prior to going out in the sun. Avoid the hottest part of the day. Take a break every hour if you are in the sun.”

Symptoms of heat illness include dizziness, headache, confusion, a lack of sweat, vomiting and muscle cramping.

But avoiding illness is likely as simple as drinking fluids and sitting in cooled area. And that’s where the crews of Conrad Anderson and other local air conditioning specialists come in.

Of course keeping you cool leaves these men no option but to be hot, electrician David Gaudé said.

“We have been going pretty strong,” Gaudé said. “We try to start early and work late to get everyone taken care of.

“Everywhere we go is hot. I’d almost say 100 percent of what our crews do is in the heat.”

Gaudé did say the crews have noticed the increased temperatures in the last week.

“We acknowledge when it is hot and say ‘be careful,’” he said.

That message is one Vaughan said his customers express to his crew as well.

“They are understanding; they don’t want to get anyone hurt,” he said. “Ninety percent say (be careful) to us. And they will bring water to us.”

And the message is the same at area schools, several of which started last week.

“The children can bring a bottle of water to class,” Frazier Primary Principal Vera Dunmore said. “And teachers have indoor recess in the air conditioning. We will have no outdoor activities in this heat.”

In fact, it may be the end of August before students start running and jumping on school playgrounds, Dunmore said.

The National Weather Service currently has the Miss-Lou under a heat advisory, which is set to expire tonight. But hot temperatures will stick around for a few more weeks, National Weather Service Meteorologist Brian Koeneke said.

“Going into (this week), the chances for some cooler weather and rain are higher than they have been, but for the most part it is going to continue to stay hot,” he said. “It will remain near or above average for the rest of the summer, but hopefully the heat we have had this past week will not come back.”

Koeneke said the cooler weather should arrive for the fall season, and until then area residents need to do their best to continue to stay cool.