Record heat bakes nation
Thursday , June 28, 2012 - 12:05 PM
If you’re feeling hot this week, it’s not a mirage. From Montana to Louisiana, hundreds of heat records have been slashed as harrowing temperatures leave cornfields parched and city sidewalks sizzling.
On Tuesday 251 new daily high temperature records were set, boosting to 1,015 the number of records set in the past seven days.
The consequences range from comical — a bacon-fried driveway in Oklahoma — to catastrophic, as wildfires consuming parts of the Rocky Mountains are fueled by oppressive heat and gusty winds.
The record-breaking numbers might seem big, but they’re hard to put into context — the National Climatic Data Center has only been tracking the daily numbers broken for a little more than a year, said Derek Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the center.
Still, it’s impressive, given that records usually aren’t broken until the scorching months of July and August.
“Any time you’re breaking all-time records in mid- to late-June, that’s a healthy heat wave,” Arndt said.
And if forecasts hold, more records could fall in the coming days in the central and western parts of the country and extend to the East Coast through the weekend.
Though it’s been a week that could fry a person’s soul — and their soles and hands, really anything exposed to the relentless sun — no matter where you are, the objective is the same: stay cool.
HIGH STAKES, HIGH TEMPS
All bets are off at the famed thoroughbred racetrack Churchill Downs during the heat wave — at least they will be Thursday.
The Louisville, Ky., venue canceled its racing card as meteorologists predicted temperatures would touch at least 100 degrees. Track spokesman Darren Rogers said he thinks it’s the first time the home of the Kentucky Derby has canceled racing due to extreme heat.
Longtime horse trainer Dale Romans has seen the toll that sweltering temperatures can take on the animals.
“I’ve seen horses have heat strokes, and it’s not a pretty sight,” the veteran Kentucky trainer said Wednesday.
Romans said he thinks most of the horses and humans could handle the heat, but it’s not worth the risk, especially when the dirt track soaks up the sun’s heat.
“These are professional athletes,” he said. “They’re exerting all their energy, and everybody knows how tough it is to get that hot. Some of the horses just can’t cool down fast enough afterward.”
PRAYING FOR RAIN
On the treeless, wind-swept Kansas prairie, the searing mix of sun and triple-digit heat is a recipe for agricultural disaster.
Some residents have taken to praying for rain and cooler temperatures in the sparsely populated western part of the state. Menlo farmer Brian Baalman can testify to that.
“Everybody is just sick of it. They just wish we would get a good rain,” he said. “It has become a point to pray for it at church on Sunday, for sure.”
Temperatures in the area have hovered around 111 degrees or higher for the past four days. Hill City, about 50 miles from Menlo, reached 115 on Tuesday and Wednesday — earning it the distinction of the nation’s hottest spot, according to the National Weather Service.
Much of the fortunes in the Menlo area are tied to corn, whose crop yields contribute not only to food but also ethanol-blended gasoline. But day after unyielding day of blazing sun and high heat have baked the top six inches of soil, and plant roots can’t break through to the moister soil below.
Growing corn in these hot and windy conditions, Baalman said, is impossible.
“It is getting to look ugly, the longer this keeps going on without a drink,” Baalman said.
Wildfires pack intense heat, but soaring temperatures and whipping winds are piling the pressure on the men and women battling the blazes raging across the Rocky Mountains.
U.S. Forest Service firefighter Owen Johnson had to work overnight and avoided the piping-hot daytime temperatures in the region, which toppled records in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. On Tuesday, Colorado Springs reached 101 degrees, and Miles City in eastern Montana soared to 111 degrees, the highest ever recorded in that area.
A call came in after Johnson’s regular shift Monday in the Helena National Forest in Montana. A wildfire was racing through the Scratchgravel Hills, threatening at least 200 homes. But firefighters had to wait to attack the flames until midnight when the temperatures cooled and the wind died down.
On Tuesday morning, Johnson figured he had worked more than 24 hours, and probably wouldn’t quit until the sun went down.
His sweaty hands gripping a banana and a cup of coffee, he gave a tired shrug when asked to compare this fire to others in his 13-year career.
“Every fire’s different,” he said. “They all pose their own risks and challenges.”
EVERYTHING’S BETTER WITH BACON
Aaron Anderson and his 4-year-old son bypassed the timeworn trick of cooking an egg on the baking sidewalk Tuesday, opting instead to fry bacon on their driveway in Coweta, Okla.
Anderson’s thermometer read 105 degrees around 4:30 p.m., about the same time his son, Aaron Paul, said it felt like his feet were cooking.
Sky-high temperatures aren’t unusual in this part of the country, but it is warm enough this week that five records were set on Tuesday.
Anderson preheated the skillet for 10 minutes in the sun before throwing on the bacon.
It took an hour for the meat to fully cook. And, yes, they ate it.
“My only regret is it was turkey bacon instead of pork bacon, but that’s all we had,” Anderson said.
SWEATERS NEEDED IN SEATTLE
In the northern corners of the United States, the weather was the opposite of infernal.
It looks like March, not June, in Seattle. People are clad in coats and scarves, using umbrellas to shield themselves — not from the bright sun but raindrops.
Tuesday was more than 10 degrees colder than usual, with temperatures hovering around 60 degrees.
Patty Carlson didn’t think she’d need a sweater, but there she was, ordering a latte at a downtown espresso shop on Tuesday.
“Take a look around the street,” the 30-year Seattle resident said. “Would you guess it’s June?”
Meanwhile, New England kicked off summer with 90-degree heat and high temperatures in Vermont and Maine.
But as Mark Twain famously summed up the region’s fickle weather, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”
Last weekend, a summertime nor’easter, flooding and thunderstorms knocked temps down across much of New England, and temperatures dropped to the 60s in some parts Tuesday and Wednesday.
The yo-yo effect was felt at Ben and Jerry’s ice cream stand in Freeport, Maine. One day, customers’ ice cream was melting faster than they could eat it. The next, customers trickled away.
Co-manager Carey Lockard has heard Twain’s musings; customers often show up at the stand, his words on their tongues.
“It’s amazing — the weather in Maine,” she said.
Borenstein reported from Washington, D.C., Schreiner in Louisville, Ky., and Hegeman reported from Wichita, Kan. Associated Press reporters Manuel Valdes in Seattle, Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, Matt Volz in Helena, Mont., and David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.
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