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Heat wave diary: Driver says hydration is the key

| Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Pittsburgh region, like much of the nation, is baking in a heat wave this week. The forecast high for today is 97, with highs Friday expected in the low 90s. The "feels like" numbers are based on the heat index, which uses air temperature and relative humidity to gauge how hot it feels. Check back here for local developments at the day progresses.

6:02 p.m.

Temp: 93 Feels like: 110

Joe Conroy, sales manager and truck driver for FCC Environmental, stops at a Connellsville gas station Thursday afternoon. He says hydration is "key" while driving in hot weather. If a driver notices he's getting dizzy or lethargic, it's best to take a break to regain energy and alertness, he says, adding that checking and maintaining the truck's condition is also important.

"We have to make sure fluid levels, like antifreeze, are maintained," Conroy says. "It's easy for the engines to overheat in this weather. You're already putting a lot of stress on yourself and on the vehicles, and paired with this heat, things can get complicated.

"Our drivers have to remember to pace themselves. You can't drive in 90-degree weather like you can drive in 60-degree weather."

6:02 p.m.

Temp: 93 Feels like: 110

Pat Murphy and a co-worker scrape paint off a Youngwood Township house to prepare the wood for priming. Murphy, a Roland Painting & Restoration employee, says it's unlikely they would paint on such a hot day.

"Sometimes it's almost too hot to paint," Murphy says. "If we have to paint in the heat, we add water to the paint and keep it in the shade to keep it from thickening."

Murphy sys in temperatures above 90 degrees, paint will become thick and will not dry properly.

5: 17 p.m.

Temp: 94 Feels like: 103

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. An excessive heat warning remains in effect until 6 p.m. today.

Heat index values reached 105 to 108 in the shade late this afternoon and are expected to hit 100 to 102 by Friday afternoon. Values can be up to 15 degrees higher in the sun.

The combination of hot temperatures and high humidity will combine to create a dangerous situation which makes heat illnesses likely.

5:10 p.m.

Temperature, 94; Feels like, 103

Allegheny County announces the opening of more cooling centers:

Monroeville Senior Center, 6000 Gateway Campus Blvd., will be open until 9 tonight.

Wexford Volunteer Fire Co., 228 North Chapel Drive, Pine, will be open through Saturday, noon-7 p.m.

Verona Municipal Building, 736 E. Railroad St., will be open through Saturday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

5 p.m.

Temp: 93 Feels like: 110

PennDOT employee Jeff Carsen and co-workers are drinking a lot of liquid and staying in the shade under the Memorial Bridge on Route 119. The crew is placing a deck under the bridge to prepare for sand blasting and painting.

4:45 p.m.

Temp: 93 Feels like: 110

Benson Domasky, owner of Domasky Landscaping of Mt. Pleasant, said he's more concerned about employees than equipment, though he keeps an eye on it when the temperature rises above the mid-80s.

'AoeWe start earlier, if we can, to get out of the heat of the day. And, of course, we'Are drinking lots of water,'A Domasky said. 'AoeOur equipment never gives us too many problems in the heat. Their engines may get hotter much sooner, but they'Are designed for this heat.'A

4:30 P.M.

Temperature: 94; Feels like: 104

Greensburg Country Club head golf professional Jim McGrath said for golfers, this blistering heat means earlier playtimes, more water and more money.

Lawn care is the course's biggest expense, he said, and when it's hot, the expenses rack up. Some of the most important maintenance tasks, McGrath said, are setting a computerized sprinkling system, hand-watering the bent grass more often, raising the cut-length of the grass and increasing fungicides spraying.

"The specialized grasses are much harder to maintain than normal grass," McGrath said. "In the hotter weather, the golfers either come earlier, or just not at all. But, really, the grass is much more hurt than the golfers are by this heat."

4:30 P.M.

Temperature: 94; Feels like: 104

Appleseed Farm employee Jerry Connell said his boss ensures that precautionary steps are taken to protect his employees and, of course, his produce at the Connellsville-based market.

"There are certain fruits that you can't keep in the sun " like plums " because they'll ripen and go bad faster," Connell said. "We keep everything that's on display in the shade as much as possible, and anything extra is stored in boxes and crates, which we store in the shade to keep them cooler."

3:15 P.M.

Temperature: 94; Feels like: 104

As temperatures peak, Waste Management residential garbage crews are completing their routes, says Jim Gebicki, public relations manager. Despite their best efforts to avoid the high temperatures, crews needed to stop periodically to cool off, causing them to end a bit later than their usual 2:30 p.m., he says.

"There is a lot more that goes into residential garbage removal than people think," he says. "We are making sure these guys do their job, but in a safe and responsible manner."

2:40 P.M.

Temperature: 91; Feels like: 102

People all across the University of Pittsburgh's Oakland campus are feeling the summer heat, but the Pitt Panther is staying cool.

University of Pittsburgh public works crews are pressure washing the Panther Shrine and other sidewalks outside of the student union.

2:35 P.M.

Temperature: 91; Feels like: 102

The Cathedral of Learning in Oakland is providing some nice shade to incoming Pitt freshman Scott Bechta, 18, of Slatington, a Philadelphia suburb.

"At home, I had a pool in my backyard, so whenever it was hot like this, I could always jump in to cool off. Now, I don't have that anymore, so I am sticking to the shade and great restaurants in Oakland."

2:30 P.M.

Temperature: 91; Feels like: 102

Pittsburgh Public Schools is closing five Summer Dreamers day camp sites Friday due to lack of air conditioning.

Camp sites at Allegheny, Spring Hill, Minadeo, Phillips and Weil will close. All the other sites will be open.

The district is providing extra water to make sure campers and staff stay hydrated.

1:55 P.M.

Temperature: 91; Feels like: 102

Very few people are daring to battle the heat in Schenley Park, but that hasn't stopped Phipps Conservatory from keeping the place looking nice, says Claire Dusak, outdoor display forewoman.

Dusak and a group of volunteers from Bidwell Training Center are constantly wiping the sweat away as they pull weeds in the sweltering heat.

"When it's this hot out, my plants bloom and they love it," she says. "My workers and I, on the other hand, are having a tough time dealing with the heat."

1:40 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 98

With the temperatures turning somewhat tropical outside, Phipps Conservatory marketing manager Liz Fetchin says many people are choosing to go to the conservatory. With some of the rarest plants in the area, Phipps is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon out of the heat, she says.

"People look to Phipps as an authority for horticulture," she says. "Although many won't work in their gardens today, visiting the conservatory can give some great inspiration for personal gardens as well while staying cool."

1:35 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 98

Prolonged hot weather has put stress on state police vehicles.

At least four have experienced mechanical trouble along the turnpike during the hot spell thus far, state police said.

1:30 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 98

The West Deer Police Department is altering its routine summer bicycle patrols.

Officers patrol housing plans at least five days a week on a staggered schedule.

The patrols will continue, but will be revised during exceptionally hot days, police said. More patrols will be done by officers in cars instead.

1:05 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 98

"You get used to it," says Sid Hardie, speaking of the smell and exhaustion that comes with digging sewer lines in the extreme heat.

Hardie and about 5 other members of the crew from Kurkin Construction " in Export " are moving soil along Greensburg Road in Washington Township.

"The smell is tougher to take than the heat, and the fact that they just blacktopped the road just adds one more odor," he says, standing behind a guard rail and pointing down at the freshly paved road.

Hardie, who says he has been working construction for over 30 years, and his crew members started working at about 7 a.m. and won't finish up until 5:30 p.m.

"The best thing to do is just drink some water when you need it," he says.

1 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 97

Dr. Robin Gehris, pediatric dermatologist at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville, has seen a slew of skin ailments among her patients as the temperatures rise.

A warm spring followed by a few weeks of rain caused vegetation to grow abundantly this year, and that includes poison ivy and poison sumac.

"The cases are not necessarily worse, but there is more exposure because of the heat," she says. That's because more people go outside in the summer, she said, and there is increased growth of vegetation because of the warm temperatures.

And heat can make those cases extra-uncomfortable, and sweat can make it spread if the person touches an affected area then touches another part of the body.

"Anytime you have an itchy skin disease, the summer makes it worse," Gehris says.

Gehris urges people who go outdoors to shower immediately when they get home and wash their clothes thoroughly.

In addition, Gehris has seen a higher-than-usual number of Lyme Disease cases 10 this year so far. She also attributes this increase to the abundant vegetation.

Sunburn also has been a frequent complaint in her office.

"I make sure to advise people to wear sunblock at least SPF 30," she said.

12:45 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 97

Chuck DiNardo, 30, of Dormont, is being generous with the sunscreen at Dormont Pool. He is with three friends, all of whom say the pool is their favorite cool-off destination. DiNardo says both the size of the pool and temperature of the water are two reasons he will be here whenever the weather heats up.

"I have absolutely no air conditioning in my house, so there was no way I would sit at home on a day like this," he says.

Supervisor Katheen Guglielmi says she checks on the lifeguards every 15 minutes, allows them to jump in the pool, and constantly provides them with water.

"People worry a lot about the patrons, but sometimes they forget about our lifeguards."

12:35 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 97

Ruth and Don Williams of Burke, Va., wouldn't let the extreme heat or a flat tire keep them from biking on the Great Allegheny Passage.

After the couple stopped for a water break near Cedar Creek Park, Ruth discovered she had a flat tire.

"Today is the worst," she said of the heat. "The last two days there's been a lot of shade, so it's been great, but today it's so hot."

The group of 12 they were with had planned to bike to Boston, Pa., but instead will finish their 115-mile journey in West Newton before returning home.

"It's just knowing your limits," Don said.

Ruth and Don Williams of Burke, Va., wouldn't let the extreme heat or a flat tire keep them from biking on the Great Allegheny Passage.

After the couple stopped for a water break near Cedar Creek Park, Ruth discovered she had a flat tire.

"Today is the worst," she said of the heat. "The last two days there's been a lot of shade, so it's been great, but today it's so hot."

The group of 12 they were with had planned to bike to Boston, Pa., but instead will finish their 115-mile journey in West Newton before returning home.

"It's just knowing your limits," Don said.

12:30 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 97

Norm Simeone, 82, of Dormont, is at the corner of Banksville Road and Dormont Avenue, working in the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy garden. As cars fly by him bound for Dormont Pool, he says he is perfectly fine in the shade.

"People look at me and think, 'How is that old man out here in the heat?' " he says as he sprinkles water on impatiens. "To be honest, I love this weather and wouldn't trade it for anything."

12:15 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 97

Joey Vallarian, Duquesne Light spokesman, releases the following statement:

"We are fully aware of the heat event occurring the next few days in the region and have prepared accordingly. Extra staffing has been scheduled for the heat wave, as well as our crews being equipped with transformers so they can change out the overloaded ones as necessary.

"Also, when changing these out, they will be automatically going to a larger capacity transformer."

12:05 P.M.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 97

Joe Bruno, superintendent for Merante Contracting, says that during his 26 years in the business, he hasn't ever dealt with temperatures this hot.

As his crew puts in a 10-hour day on a street reconstruction project on Gaylord Street in Dormont, he is making sure his crew members pace themselves for the long workday.

"Doing construction work in the heat is tough; there's just no other way to phrase it," he says. "When you are working with asphalt that gets up to 450 degrees, you need to be careful."


Temperature: 88; Feels like: 97

Allegheny General Hospital reports seeing five cases of dehydration in the emergency room yesterday, up from the typical one or two.

11:50 A.M.

Temperature: 85; Feels like: 92

Several cooling/comfort stations are open in Washington County:

The Washington County Senior Citizen Centers are open during normal business hours today and tomorrow. People should call before going after hours.

The North Strabane Volunteer Fire Department, 2550 Washington Rd., will be open today through Saturday from 7 a.m. to midnight.

11:45 A.M.

Temperature: 85; Feels like: 92

Thoughts of the brutal winter weather are keeping Mark Wagner, mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, from giving in to the extreme heat. He says after 25 years as a carrier, he will take the heat over snow any day of the week.

"Spending six hours in the heat doesn't compare to dealing with a foot of snow," he says as he delivers mail in Castle Shannon. "Although I wish I was in a pool right now, I am thankful I am not walking through snow."

11:40 A.M.

Temperature: 85; Feels like: 92

The high is expected to hit 96, but that's not quite a record for today's date, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Darnely.

On July 21, 1885, the temperature hit 99.

The last time it was close to being this hot was Aug. 4, 2002, when the area made it to 95 degrees.

The highest it's ever been in the Pittsburgh region is 103 degrees, which has been hit three times: July 16, 1988; Aug. 6, 1918; and July 10, 1881.

11:30 A.M.

Temperature: 85; Feels like: 92

Dr. Sally Wenzel, director of the University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute at UPMC, said she hasn't seen an increase in the number of people with asthma attacks today, and that's likely due to common sense.

"Most people who have had asthma for a number of years are more likely to stay indoors because they realize, if they go out, they'll have a problem," she said.

The thick humidity can make it difficult for people with respiratory problems to breathe, so some who were recently diagnosed with asthma, or those who don't have access to air conditioning, can end up in the ER, Wenzel said. UPMC had no reports of asthma-related cases this morning.

"Winter is really the biggest time asthmatics end up in the ER with the increase in the number of viruses and the cold air," Wenzell said.

Still, heat is no picnic for them. Wenzell urges asthmatics to stay indoors and limit exercise today.

"It's well known among asthmatics that these are tough times," she said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has issued an air quality alert for Allegheny, Butler, Beaver, Armstrong, Washington, Westmoreland and Fayette counties for today.

Air pollution concentrations within the region could become unhealthy for people suffering from asthma, heart or lung diseases and the elderly.

11:20 A.M.

Temperature: 85; Feels like: 92

The Allegheny County Health Department is warning that the extreme heat and humidity forecast for the next few days can pose serious health problems for the elderly, infants and children up to the age of 4, the overweight, people who work or exercise outdoors, and people with heart or respiratory problems. Allegheny County Emergency Services announces the opening of 11 cooling centers:

Carnegie Municipal Building, 1 Veterans Way, will be open today, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

E. McKeesport Senior Center, 529 Chicora St., will be open today 1-7 p.m.

Alle-Kiski Medical Center, 1301 Carlisle St., Harrison Township, will be open today and tomorrow, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

Heidelberg Volunteer Fire Department, 456 First St., will be open today noon-5 p.m.

Munhall Borough Building, 1900 West St., will be open today, tomorrow and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Munhall Volunteer Fire Station 203, 3401 Main St., will be open today, tomorrow and Saturday , 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Pittsburgh Technical Institute, 1111 McKee Road, Oakdale, will be open today and tomorrow, 24 hours a day

Seton Center, 1900 Pioneer Ave., Brookline, will be open today and tomorrow, 7 a.m-9 p.m.

Lemington Community Center, 1701 Lincoln Ave., will be open today and tomorrow, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Stephen Foster Community Center, 286 Main St., Lawrenceville, will be open today and tomorrow, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Jewish Community Center, 5738 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill, will be open today and tomorrow, 9 a.m.- 9:30 p.m.

11:05 A.M.

Temperature: 85; Feels like: 92

There isn't any shade for the crew of Allemang Concrete and Masonry crew as they lay concrete in a driveway on Hastie Road in Castle Shannon.

Tim Frosini says they have been working since 6:30 a.m., and the heat is knocking them down. Although the extreme temperatures have little effect on the concrete itself, it definitely has an effect on the crew.

"These guys have been out here all day and they seem to be holding up OK," he says. "It may get to the point when we have to halt work if it gets too much more uncomfortable out here."

10:25 A.M.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 88

Children at the Westminster Child Development Center in Upper St. Clair got outside time a little early today. Counselor Nathaniel Borrelli says the center switched its programming around to keep the kids from being outside in the extreme heat.

"We are giving them plenty of water and taking them in soon before things really start heating up out here. The only good part about this weather is that it helps the kids sleep better during nap time."

10 A.M.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 88

As the heat intensifies, the Upper St. Clair Panthers football team is running sprints and conditioning themselves for the upcoming season.

Diana Knight, 48, of Upper St. Clair, is watching her daughter participate in the conditioning camp. She says practicing in the morning is a great way to beat the heat.

"The players are conditioned, so they can deal with the elements pretty well," she says. "Its important they finish up within the next hour or two, because even the most conditioned still must be wary of the heat."

9:30 A.M.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

The Mt. Lebanon cross country team is out on their six-mile daily run, and the heat is getting to them.

Brian Feldman, 17, of Mt. Lebanon, says he is glad they started the run at 8 a.m. because he is hoping they will have it done before it gets too warm.

"We are definitely running through a lot of sprinklers during our jog through the community," he says. "Water and Gatorade help, but those sprinklers keep us going."

9:15 A.M.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Darlene Purdy, 34, of Baldwin Township, and her son, Aiden, 1, are strolling down Rolling Rock Road before the heat gets to them. She says they are constantly guzzling water, but had to move their daily morning walk up an hour or so in order to avoid the heat.

"Today, I don't think I will be taking my son outside much," she says. "If you stay cool, it helps, but that can be pretty difficult."

8:50 A.M.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Geri White of Baldwin Township is soaking her beloved plants with a hose to prepare them for the intense heat. She says she is trying to get out as early as possible so she can avoid the heat and give her plants a fighting chance.

"If you water your plants after 11 a.m., it kind of defeats the purpose because the sun will just zap the water off," she says. "I am trying to get out here early so I don't have a yard full of dead plants by the time this heat wave is through."

8:35 A.M.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Golfers are hurrying through Mt. Lebanon Municipal Golf Course before weather conditions make it unplayable. J.R. Hall, 51, of Castle Shannon, and Tery Williard, 63, of Upper St. Clair, say the whole point of coming out to golf is to enjoy yourself, but that can't happen in sweltering temperatures.

"They aren't paying us to come out here and do this, so it needs to be fun," Hall says. "Later this afternoon I don't think I could physically handle a round of golf."

8:20 A.M.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Lawn mowers are running and golfers are cramming in nine holes at Mt. Lebanon Municipal Golf Course before the extreme heat comes. Dick Schneider, head starter, says business in the afternoon has died off because people want to come out early and golf before the extreme weather sets in.

"Everyone has a decision when the weather gets this hot: go to the pool or come to the golf course," he says. "It looks like everyone is making the wrong decision and going to the pool."

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