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Heat Wave Diary: Even fathers have to work in the sun

| Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Pittsburgh region, like much of the nation, is baking in a heat wave this week. The forecast high for today is 92, with highs Thursday and Friday expected to hit 96.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.

5:11 p.m.

Temp: 90 Feels like: 97

What brings a man outside on a day such as today?

"Probably a lot of crazy," says John Nalevanko, 75, of South Greensburg, as he cleans pine needles off his South Greensburg sidewalk in the middle of the muggy afternoon.

Actually, his son is making him do it."He'll be here at 4 o'clock. If he sees I'm not working, he'll have the better of me."

Nalevanko laughs, not a bead of sweat showing on his t-shirt.

4:51 p.m.

Temp: 90 Feels like: 97

There's nowhere to hide. No place where the sun is not beating down.

For Scott Lowther and his Peoples Gas cohorts, it's been a long, hot miserable day on Vine Street in Greensburg, where a line blew out a resident was left without gas for cooking.

Taken altogether, it's worse than cold, Lowther said: "At least in winter you can put clothes on. In summer, you can never take enough clothes off."

4:05 p.m.

Temperature: 89; Feels like: 94

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is making accommodations for its outside animals because of the heat, says Henry Kacprzyk, curator of Kids Kingdom and reptiles exhibits. The polar bears and river otters are being fed "fish popsicles," or frozen pieces of fish. Mist stations have been set up to allow other animals to cool off.

"This is a great time to come to the zoo because you get to see a different side of the animals," Kacprzyk says. "Watching the animals swim in the water is a unique experience you won't always get at the zoo."

3:40 p.m.

Temperature: 89; Feels like: 95
Katie Pietrzak, 18, of Baldwin says she has the best job around on hot days.

Pietrzak is a lifeguard at South Park wave pool, where she can cool off the instant she gets too hot. Although the stress level has picked up for her today, the waterfalls and sunshine keep her happy during work, she says.

"I love working at the place where I would probably be at anyway on a day like today," she says. "Nothing can beat sitting by a pool when it is probably too hot to do anything else anyway."

3:30 p.m.

Temperature: 89; Feels like: 95

Old Hanna's Town lay under a blanket of suffocating, stagnant air. But in the midst of the Hempfield Township site is a team of student archeologists from Indiana University of Pennsylvania digging for 18th century artifacts.

It's good training, says Dr. Ben Ford. The heat, that is. In other years, in other climes, it may be worse.

"The only way to stay cool is drink water and dress as light as possible," says student Andrea Boon, while helping to excavate a hole in a ground in pursuit of the past.

3:25 p.m.

Temperature: 89; Feels like: 95

Air conditioning, what's that?

The guys under the hood at the Hempfield Salem Service garage outside of Crabtree, with its two double wide doors, are having none of that. Still, it's okay.

"I'd rather be here than putting shingles on a roof," says Bill Llewellyn. "Now those guys really get hot."

On days like this Jeff Edmunds said he spends more time in the air-conditioned office. Wink, wink. Just kidding, he says, with an eye on the boss.

3:25 p.m.

Temperature: 89; Feels like: 95

Droves of cars are filing in to the South Park wave pool parking lot.

Tera Kite, 35, of Elizabeth, and her two children, Gabby, 10, and Levi, 8, say they enjoy the sun and the waves. Kite says the best part about coming to the wave pool is that her kids are able to get off the couch and enjoy some sunshine.

"When we come here, my kids feel like they are at the beach," she says.

3:20 p.m.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 96

Totterridge golf course is 7,154 yards long, and Tracey Downs is doing her best to see every last blade of grass -- regardless of the heat.

"I'm a new golfer," Downs allowed. "I may suck at golf and I may sweat like anything, but I'm playing. If I hit the ball, I'll stay cool."

She and husband Alan and son Justin are playing 18 holes.

3:00 p.m.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 96

The temperature outside reads around 90, but in a parked car, the temperature can quickly reach 120 or higher, risking severe heat stroke or even death for animals, according to Jolene Miklas, director of communications for Animal Friends.

Owners should never leave a pet in a parked car on a hot day, Miklas says. Other tips include keeping pets' water dishes out of the sun and giving animals shelter from the sun.

Signs of severe heat stress in a pet include heavy panting, increased heart rate, glassy eyes, staggering walk, vomiting and diarrhea, Miklas says. An overheated pet must be moved out of the sun and immersed in cool water. If a distressed pet is seen in a car, Animal Friends recommends contacting a humane officer or the police.

2:45 p.m.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 96

Home City Ice in Bethel Park is experiencing a spike in business as temperatures climb.

Clint Sponfeller, general manager, estimated that calls this week for bulk ice delivery to businesses and special events are about twice their normal volume.

"You could wet a towel and use that to beat the heat, but nothing does the trick quite like ice," he said.

2:30 p.m.

Temperature: 88; Feels like: 96

Allegheny Valley Hospital announces it will host two cooling centers today from 3 to 8 p.m., and tomorrow and Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Natrona Heights center is at Allegheny Valley Hospital, 1301 Carlisle St., and the New Kensington site is at the former Citizens Hospital, 651 Fourth Ave.

Light refreshments and snacks will be available.

2 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

Phones are ringing off the hook at Gillece Services, where service calls for central air conditioners have more than doubled today.

General manager Joe Benz said the best thing people can do to prevent their air conditioners from failing is to eliminate excessive opening and closing of doors as well as drawing all window blinds.

"Summer isn't like winter, because you don't have the luxury of turning the central air off and dealing with the outside temperatures," he said. "People need to keep up with their central air units and make sure maintenance is taken care of as needed."

2 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

Trish Stewart says the Subway restaurant in the Banksville Plaza is nice and cool.

"I'd rather be hanging outside in this kind of weather than hanging outside when it's cold," she says during a break from her job there. "We're busier when the weather is like this. People will come in to just order a drink and sit there."

2 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

There is no parking available at the Dormont Pool, at Dormont and Banksville roads.

1:55 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

Pat Tess of Whitehall went to get a hot dog at Carini's Homemade Ice Cream and Gelato on Dormont Road after dropping her grandchildren at the Dormont Pool.

"This weather is horrible. It's only good for being inside the house," she says.

1:55 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

The air-conditioned Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill hosted its largest congregant lunch today, reports spokeswoman Cathy Samuels.

"The seniors are really grateful," she says. "We've definitely seen a nice increase today because they can come here and be comfortable."

1:50 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

Doctors at Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side report there have been two or three cases today of people with symptoms typical of heat-related illnesses, such as nausea and muscle cramps.

1:45 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

Roofing workers from Burns and Scalo Roofing Co. are wrapping up work for the day at a project in Uniontown.

The intense heat caused workers to start as early as 2 a.m. today, says Bill Ludwig, vice president of operations. He says the company has been keeping an eye on its workers as they take to the rooftops in the scorching weather.

"We always look out for our guys out there, mainly because sometimes the weather can be intolerable," he said. "Our guys constantly need to look out for each other on any project."

Pat McGonigle, owner of Welte Roofing in Baldwin Township, says his 28 roofers working in Squirrel Hill, Fox Chapel, Shadyside and Burgettstown got started around 6 a.m. today.

"You have to be a little careful with this heat," he says. Welte also makes sure the crew stays hydrated, keeps their shirts on and wears company hats to avoid excessive sun exposure. Today, they'll stop work around 3 p.m., but tomorrow he wants everyone off the clock by 1:30 p.m.

"That's going to be too hot," he says. "You don't want anybody passing out."

1:30 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

The temperature outside the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center reads 91 degrees, while on the ice inside it's a comfortable -- if not downright chilly -- 55 degrees, according to Scott Baldwin, director of operations.

When the temperature goes up, attendance at the facility's public skate events increase, according to Baldwin.

Public skates are offered tonight and Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday night is Family Night, where a family of four can cool off together for around $30, according to Baldwin. Saturday offers a public skate from 1:15 to 3 p.m. and 7:30 to 9:20 p.m.

This afternoon, a figure skating class run by director of figure skating Beth Sutton took to the ice.

1:25 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

People of all ages are huddling around Gus and Yiayia's ice ball stand in the North Shore. Gus Kalaris, 79, of Brighton Heights, says the family has opened their stand every summer day for 77 years, which makes them a cool-down destination for those braving the heat. Keeping the ice from melting in intense heat can be tough, but it hasn't been a problem for Gus.

"The ice melts fast, but we sell it fast," he said. "People always come and visit us because our ice balls are the best way to cool down in Pittsburgh."

1:05 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

Kimberly Merrell, 33, of Churchill and co-worker Britaini Watterson, 24, of Plum are spending their lunch break from Light of Life Ministries at Allegheny Commons Park in Pittsburgh's North Shore.

As they sip Arizona Green Tea, they are battling hungry squirrels who are trying to catch morsels of their ham sandwiches. They say they walk the park every day, and a little heat was not going to stop them.

"The heat isn't so bad as long as you find a nice bit of shade and a cold drink," Merrell said. "I'll never pass up an opportunity to enjoy this beautiful weather."

1 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

There are six leagues gearing up to play at Cedarbrook Golf Course in Belle Vernon at 4 p.m., but many of their members already are out on the greens getting in a quick nine holes beforehand, says assistant professional Justin Schaum.

"There are even some here who are walking," he says. "It's crazy."

Course employees tell golfers to drink a lot of water, Schaum said. There also is staff out on the course in case someone needs emergency attention.

"Because we have leagues during the week, if the heat affects anything, it's mid-day on the weekends," he says.

1 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

Want to stay comfortable in the throes of the heat• Wear white. That's what Sean Tully of Churchill is doing.

Tully, laboring outdoors on his "ride on spreader" at the South Meadow at Lindwood housing complex just outside Greensburg, crowed, "I'm cool."

The white was his own idea. An 11-year law care veteran, Tully said it took him a couple of years to catch on to the wisdom of pale on days like today.

1 p.m.

Temperature: 86; Feels like: 93

With a Panama hat shading her face and a wet towel draped around her neck, Markella Pahnos is ready for several hours of intensive lawn mowing at her parents' place in Hempfield Township.

"Oh, I take breaks, too, and lots of water," admitted Pahnos. And one more thing: "I'm riding," Pahnos noted, "so it's not too bad."

12:45 p.m.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 90

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl urges residents to take extra safety precautions during this week's heat wave.

"This extreme heat wave poses a public safety hazard for our most vulnerable residents, especially for our young and elderly residents," he says in a prepared statement. "Like Pittsburghers always do, I strongly encourage residents to check on their elderly neighbors and family."

The city's Homewood Healthy-Active Living Center will be open through Sunday at 7321 Frankstown Ave.

The Allegheny County Health Department warns that the extreme heat and humidity forecast this week 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.

12:30 p.m.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 90

The National Weather Service upgrades its excessive heat watch for the area tomorrow to a warning.

It is in effect from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. The heat index will be 105 to 106, creating potential for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

In addition to drinking plenty of fluids, residents are urged to take extra precautions if they work or spend time outside. When possible, reschedule strenuous activities to early morning or evening.

Wear light weight and loose fitting clothing when possible. Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location.

12:35 p.m.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 90

Sugar and Spice ice cream shop in Pleasant Hills has seen about 15 customers in its first hour of business today -- higher than normal, says manager Larry Heenan.

"I hope it stays that way," he says.

The creamery has six benches outside, but the past few days, people have been opting to stay in the air conditioned dining room.

"Those benches are usually packed," Heenan says.

12:35 p.m.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 90

A group of Cincinnati Reds fans gather around the Willie Stargell statue outside the left field gate, and they worry more about how their Reds will fare against the first-place Pirates than they do about the heat.

Although Richard "Doc" Murdock, 30, of Cincinnati, has plenty to say against the home team, he says the atmosphere at the ballpark is one of a kind.

"It was hard for me to come to Pittsburgh, since I am such a die-hard Ohio sports fan," he said. "It's nice to come and watch my team take on the Pirates in a competitive matchup."

12:30 p.m.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 90

There are about 400 people at the South Park Wave Pool, but manager Ray Ames says that's half of what he expected today.

"I think a lot of people can't take the heat," he says. "They're going to malls and movies."

12:20 p.m.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 90

The mist of spray sunscreen envelopes Shelly Verszyla, 36 of Wexford and her two sons, Alex, 4, and Carson 3, as they go to their first Pirates game of the season. She has plenty of fruit and water on hand as she fights to keep her and her small children hydrated.

She says her small sons have been troupers, but isn't sure how long they will be able to endure the heat.

"I keep reminding myself that I will miss this weather in the winter when there is snow on the ground," she said.

12:15 p.m.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 90

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services announces senior centers for people ages 60 and older will stay open this week longer than usual because of the heat:

Jewish Community Center, 5738 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill, will be open today and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Catholic Youth Association Stephen Foster Center, 286 Main St., Lawrenceville, will be open today-Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Citiparks Homewood Center, 7321 Frankstown Road, will be open today through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Lemington Community Center, 1701 Lincoln Ave., will be open today through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Seton Center, 1900 Pioneer Ave., Brookline, will be open today through Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Plum Community Center, 499 Center-New Texas Road, will be open Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Elder-Ado Knoxville Senior Center, 320 Brownsville Road, will be open Thursday and Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

12:10 p.m.

Temperature: 83; Feels like: 90

As hundreds of fans stream through the left field gate at PNC Park, security guard Ben Johnson, 18, of Upper St. Clair is making sure everyone enters safely, which means drinking plenty of water.

Although he says he is not dealing with the heat well, he is doing his best to stay hydrated.

"Fans going to the game should definitely bring plenty of water," he says. "It won't take long to get dehydrated out there in the sun, so enjoy the game and keep refreshed."


Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Pirates fans are filtering in to parking lots surrounding PNC Park. Alco Parking attendant Chris Dougherty, 35, of McKeesport, has been battling the intense heat since 8:30 a.m., directing fans to parking spaces. Beside staying hydrated, Dougherty has been using one piece of motivation to get him through the day.

"I just can't stop thinking about my vacation to Ocean City, which is in two weeks," he says. "I just picture myself in a nice chair on the beach and it makes this a lot easier."

11:55 a.m.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Chants of "let's go Bucs" echo from an underpass just outside of PNC Park as Paul Botti, 57, of McCandless and his friends tailgate before heading into the game. He says he will stay hydrated, but as soon as his seats behind the dugout get too sweltering, he is heading for the shade.

"It would be great if Mr. Nutting (the Pirates' owner) invited us up to his club seats," he said. "The way I am beating the heat is hanging out with cool people and drinking plenty of water."

11:50 a.m.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Jim Phillips, co-owner of Phillips Heating & Air Conditioning Company in Mt. Washington, has seen a "huge increase" in people seeking service on their ACs.

"A lot of people are opting to fix rather than replace because of the economy," he says.

And people who can't stand the heat aren't willing to wait.

"I had one woman who called with her air conditioner broken and said if we couldn't fix it by tomorrow, she'd call another company," Phillips says.

11:45 a.m.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Scott Penner, president of Air Conditioner Rental and Leasing in the South Side, is fielding calls from brides worried their wedding guests will be too hot. His company can provide air conditioning for tents.

"Most people call well in advance, but we are getting calls for Saturday and Sunday weddings," he says.

His company also can provide temporary cooling for industrial sites -- a demand he has seen increase in recent days. The problem, he says, is often related to the humidity's effect on electrical equipment.

11:30 a.m.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Today's a three ice-water bottle day for mailman Lee Battiston of New Stanton, where the temperature feels hotter than the mid-80s showing on the thermometer.

"There are probably 14 or 15 days a year that are either too hot or too cold," he said. "This is certainly one of those days."

Battiston started on his route around 9:30 a.m. and now noon was closing in. Two of his three bottles of liquid refreshment were already history. What's next• Naturally, a cool, refreshing lunch.

11:30 a.m.

Temperature: 80; Feels like: 84

Gearing up to go to the Pirates game today, Mark Cipriani, 51, of Robinson, enjoys some catered delicacies as he tailgates at the Grubb and Ellis company picnic. The company holds a tailgate for this particular game every year, and the heat has always been a factor.

"All you can do out here is stay hydrated and not drink too much alcohol," he said. "When I go inside, I am sure I will watch a lot of the game from the rotunda, out of the sun."

The National Weather Service reports it is 80 degrees at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin, with a heat index of 84.

11:20 A.M.

Larry Swimkoski, 68, of Castle Shannon steals a spot of shade under an umbrella outside of the National Aviary in Pittsburgh's North Shore. He is a bus driver for Mathews Bus Co. and just finished unloading a bus full of kids from the Castle Shannon Day Camp.

"There sure isn't any A/C on that bus," he said. "If I don't get inside soon I will probably melt."

11:15 A.M.

The National Weather Service issues an excessive heat watch for Thursday morning through the afternoon. The heat index will be around 105.

The combination of hot temperatures and high humidity will combine to create a dangerous situation in which heat illnesses are possible. Vehicles can reach lethal temperatures in minutes. People are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids, stay out of the sun and check on their relatives and neighbors.

11:10 a.m.

Standing in front of a griddle bubbling with cooking oil, the Rev. Miroslaw Stelmaszczyk flips potato pancakes at the Tarentum Farmer's market as the thermometer there hits 84 degrees.

"I know it's hot, but I don't want to disappoint the people who come every week for potato pancakes," says the pastor at Holy Family Catholic Chuch in the Creighton section of East Deer.

Known by all as "Father Miro," the priest raises money for his church at the market. He also tries to raise spirits.

"Heat, snow -- it doesn't matter," he says. "I celebrate life. It's all about evangelism."

11:10 A.M.

The Department of Environmental Protection forecasts poor air quality for today in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties because of the heat.

According to the department, ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, forms during warm weather when pollution from vehicles, industry, households and power plants "bakes" in the sun, making it hard for some people to breathe.

Young children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution and should limit outdoor activities.

Residents and businesses are encouraged to ride the bus or carpool to work, wash dishes and clothes only with full loads, and turn off unused lights.

10:50 A.M.

The National Weather Service is predicting a four-day stretch of temperatures above 90. Sunday's forecast calls for 89 degrees.

The longest stretch of above-90 days occurred July 4 to 16, 1988 �" two of those days went above 100, said meteorologist Tom Green.

The normal high for today is 83 degrees �" we're expected to hit 91 or 92. We've had two days above 90 in July so far �" the average for the month is three days above 90.

10:45 A.M.

There are 127 people at the city's cooling center at the Homewood Healthy-Active Living Center at this hour. It is the center's annual picnic day, but the heat is forcing the event inside.

"They're enjoying it," says Priscilla Nixon, a senior aide at the center. "It's nice and cool, and we have all the picnic stuff and games inside."

10 A.M.

In anticipation of the extreme heat expected over the next several days, Carnegie Borough will open its municipal building council chambers as a "cooling center" between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

9:45 A.M.

The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh has issued an "excessive heat watch" for the city that will be in effect this morning through this afternoon.

It said the heat index will be around 105. Hot temperatures and high humidity combine to produce the index numbers.

The advisory says:

"An excessive heat watch means that a prolonged period of hot temperatures is expected. The combination of hot temperatures and high humidity will combine to create a dangerous situation in which heat illnesses are possible. Vehicles can reach lethal temperatures in a matter of minutes ... even on relatively mild days. Never leave children or pets unattended in a vehicle ... not even for a minute. Drink plenty of fluids ... stay in an air-conditioned room ... stay out of the sun ... and check up on relatives and neighbors."

Photo Galleries

Heat Wave 2011

Heat Wave 2011

Hot weather oppresses Western Pennsylvanians.

Additional Information:

Days of 90 or better

The National Weather Service offers this chart on months with the average number of days with temperatures of 90 degrees or higher (with the record number in parentheses). July of 1988 • the all-time high • saw 17 such days. The average for July is 3.3 days that warm.

April: 0 (1, 1896 and 1925)

May: 0.3 (4 in 1911)

June: 1.7 (9 in 1994)

July: 3.3 (17 in 1988)

August: 1.7 (15 in 1995)

September: 0.5 (7 in 1881)

October: 0 (2 in 1884)

Annual average: 7.5 (38 in 1988)

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