Keeping cool in record heat
August 4, 2009
Scoopers at Cold Stone Creamery ratcheted production of chilly creations during a record-breaking heat wave last week. Then, the air conditioning unit broke.
Customers continued to stream to the East Lake Sammamish Parkway store, eager for relief from triple-digit temperatures.
At XXX Rootbeer Drive-in, dozens of customers lined up in 100-degree heat for signature root beer floats.
“Some are even going from the small to the large,” employee Jose Enciso Jr. said.
At ice cream shops, movie theaters, pools and beaches around Issaquah, residents sought refuge as the mercury climbed beyond 100 and residents slogged through days of high temperatures — including record temperatures.
Temperatures at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — where the official readings for Seattle are taken — reached 103 degrees July 29.
The heat wave also taxed local utilities providers. Across the region, power usage soared as homeowners and business owners kicked on air conditioning units. Puget Sound Energy set a summer record of 3,508 megawatts July 29. In Issaquah, water usage in July was up 21 percent over July 2008.
The oppressive heat set emergency responders and public health officials on edge.
“It was so hot, it seemed if you breathed the wrong way, a fire would start,” Eastside Fire & Rescue spokeswoman Josie Williams said.
Indeed, a fire ripped through a greenbelt in the Issaquah Highlands July 29. No property was damaged by the blaze.
EFR crews did not see the number of medical emergencies rise with the temperature. Williams said officials expected to see more heat-related emergencies. But she said the availability of information about ways to keep cool and healthy likely helped reduce the number of cases.
“We didn’t have a lot of heat-related incidents, but we had a lot of brush fires,” Williams said.
Customers stormed The Home Depot, Lowe’s Home Improvement and MM Comfort in search of air conditioning units and fans.
New shipments arrived at The Home Depot almost daily, but the store sold out of those appliances the same day.
“Every morning since the weekend, 20 to 30 people line up outside our doors every morning,” explained Eddy Wilbur, one of the managers at Home Depot.
The story was similar at Lowe’s — air conditioning units and fans were sold out — and people lined up at the doors before the store opened.
Before the run of record heat, Williams met with city and county officials to ensure cooling station and heat-related health information was widely posted.
“I think people were really paying attention,” she said. “They weren’t exerting themselves and they were staying out of the sun, because it was so hot.”
At the Swedish Medical Center standalone emergency room, emergency physician Dr. John Milne said the patients filing into the waiting room had minor heat-related symptoms.
“The biggest thing we’ve been seeing is more of the heat exhaustion and dehydration related to heat exhaustion,” Milne said. “It’s a simple thing where people aren’t keeping up on their fluids as well as they might have, and are becoming fatigued and dehydrated.”
Heat-related conditions can also aggravate underlying or long-term conditions.
Heat contributed to the death of a Seattle man last week, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County officials. Authorities said the man was in his 60s and had heart disease.
Public health officials used the incident to reiterate the danger of heat for children, senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses.
Pet owners also sought ways to keep their four-legged friends cool.
PetSmart’s Pet Hotel service was booked solid. The indoor, air-conditioned space allows for up to 10 large or 15 small and medium dogs to play together.
King County Animal Care and Control officials urged pet owners to provide pets with plenty of water and avoid leaving animals in hot vehicles.
In Issaquah, Milne said he was thankful his team had not seen severe cases of heat stroke.
“For the most part, it seems people are staying out of the heat and keeping cool, but the big thing is people aren’t drinking as many fluids as they should,” he added.
At the Aegis Inn facility for senior citizens, residents were treated to massages, movies, bingo and indoor activities inside air-conditioned quarters.
“They’ve been doing the spa experience,” said Leslie Campama, marketing director for the facility. “Getting cold towels around their necks, while our staff has been doing hand massages and putting other cold towels around their wrists and arms.”
Campama said Aegis managers cancelled several outdoor activities, including a trip to a July 30 Seattle Mariners game. Temperatures reached triple digits that day.
“From the elderly perspective, they should make sure to stay indoors or in shaded areas, stay someplace that is cool,” Milne said. “They also need to keep themselves well hydrated.”
Intern Hunter Deiglmeier contributed to this report.
By Warren Kagarise, Chantelle Lusebrink and David Hayes