Philly braces for a sweltering Fourth of July week
With temperatures expected to reach 90 and above through Thursday, Philadelphians and area visitors are wrestling with weather that could turn Independence Day events into a battle between celebrating the nation's birthday and beating the heat.
The National Weather Service has issued an excessive-heat warning through 8 p.m. Monday, and the City of Philadelphia has issued a code red, triggering special outreach efforts to help the homeless stay safe.
Sunday and Monday are expected to be the hottest days, nearing a 100-degree mark last reached in the region on July 18, 2012, but the heat index, a combination of temperature and humidity, will make temperatures feel as if they are approaching 106.
Rain is not expected until at least Thursday, so "it could be a while before we get a cooling thunderstorm," said Alan Reppert, senior meteorologist for Accuweather.com.
Officials of the city's Wawa Welcome America celebration, which began last week and will end Wednesday, have developed plans to help celebrators cope with the sweltering heat, including setting up air-conditioned EMS tents, increasing the number of free water stations and placing fans at outdoor events, such as a gospel concert scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday at Independence Hall.
"We always look at the weather and heat and work closely with the city on protocols to keep people healthy and safe," said Jeff Guaracino, president and CEO of Wawa Welcome America.
Guaracino chatted about the celebration Sunday while sitting near the Orangetheory Freedom Fit Fest event, a series of workout sessions and competitions at the bottom of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Organizers had altered the intensity and amount of exercise because of the heat, Guaracino said.
Scores of ambitious fitness enthusiasts worked out under a green tent and brutal temperatures with four standing fans blowing air toward them. Michele and Sophie Ferguson, a mother and daughter from Voorhees, squatted and stretched through a 45-minute class of cardio and strength training.
"I'm hot and sweaty, but I feel good," said Sophie, 17. Ferguson and her mother, who work out at an Orangetheory studio near their home, never thought about ditching the event because of the heat.
"We bought lots of cooling towels and water," Michele Ferguson said.
Nearby, Sue Rubel, 78, and Phyllis Fink, 79, of Rittenhouse Square, sat on folding chairs and sipped water, taking a break from their regular Sunday exercises.
"We're running," Rubel said. "Actually we're walking," Fink countered. "Speed walking," Rubel answered back. "Now we're resting." The two women speed-walk from Rittenhouse Square to Boathouse Row three to four times a week. On Sunday, they took more breaks during their 90-minute route. "Every half-hour for water," Rubel said.
In South Jersey, John Smarkola, 66, a resident of the Blossom Towers in Cherry Hill, says temperatures in his apartment in the complex's B building reached 86 degrees Saturday night when he says the building's air conditioning temporarily malfunctioned, but resumed operating sometime during the evening.
"I'm really worried because it's supposed to be like this all week," said Smarkola, who has emphysema. The air conditioning in the building, which houses many elderly residents, has frequently stopped working, he said.
The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging has activated the agency's heatline. Call-in center staff offer tips on staying safe in the hot weather, field reports of heat-related health problems, and dispatch medical personnel in emergencies. The line will be open through Wednesday evening, at 215-765-9040.
At the Dollar Tree store in Andorra, employees worked and shoppers walked the aisles in stifling temperatures because of air-conditioning problems, said Glynnis Gradwell, 58, of Andorra.
Gradwell shopped in the store Saturday at about noon, and visited again on Sunday morning. Employees have positioned fans around the store and propped open the doors for relief. Workers posted a sign that the store would close at 3:30 p.m. Sunday because of the air conditioning, said Gradwell, a retired teacher.
"I felt sick just standing in line," she said of her visit Saturday. "Some of the workers are older women, and I don't know how they stand it."
Miles away near the Philadelphia Art Museum, Rena Yaqoob and her grandson coped with the heat wave with the help of a city fountain.
Yaqoob sat on the edge of one on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with her feet splashing in the water below. Her grandson, Yaqoob Lewis Jones, 8, plunged in deeper, up to his neck.
"We're trying to stay cool and keep the babies cool," said Yaqoob, 58, a day-care worker from Mantua.
Grandson Yaqoob was more succinct: "Being hot is cool."