POSTED ON AUGUST 10, 2011:
We Are Too Cool To Be This Hot
It's all about survival of the fittest, and most creative, when global warming meets a stalled, upper level high pressure system
Does anyone remember moderation? The seasonal changes? Easing from one to the other? Summer just hit and stayed.
Hey, here's an idea. Dig out some mittens from down deep in the closet, open the fridge, no, the freezer, close your eyes and recall . . .
Only six months ago, you were up to their thighs in snow drifts, trying to decide between shoveling snow and streaming another episode of Party Down from Netflix. Grocery stores were like refugee camps, and poorly stocked ones at that. Vacant-eyed, lightly frozen denizens picked over the off-brands as they quietly discussed the skyrocketing price of firewood.
And man was it was cold. Super cold. At times, there was an 80-degree difference from the temperatures we're suffering through now.
Remember those days when near-biblical stalactite icicles obscured the view from your front porch? And there was the frostbite-y delight of numbed fingers and toes as they slowly melted to normal body temperature in a warm bath. Even the wintertime ritual of jogging from cozy down comforter to frosty bathroom tiles offers a kind of friendly nostalgia now.
Now, we melt daily in oven-baked heat. Gone is that fresh, rosy-cheeked chill we bemoaned when snow blurred our roads and our minds, when some of the lonelier among us did renditions of Jack Nicholson's cabin-fevered character in The Shining. "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy..."
This past July was the hottest month on record in Oklahoma history after the state averaged less than an inch of rainfall. It was also the fourth driest months on the books since the state began maintaining records in 1895.
Blizzard babies, meet the heat wave
We've had some wild weather, lately, which is even credited with a few pregnancies. Lydia Moore, a public relations associate for the Tulsa Arts & Humanities Council, said she doesn't think it's surprising that births might have surged after the blizzard of 2011.
"It seems like just yesterday we were fighting off cabin fever with hot toddy and cozy fires. But who could have guessed that these same babies will have also endured such a sizzling summer? It gives new meaning to the term 'bun in the oven,'" she said.
Moore, due in October, said she's already thinking about her little blue bundle's first Halloween costume.
"Hmmmm. It's a toss-up between the abominable snowman and an Aztec sun god!"
Lay off the water already
Here in town, Tulsans are also turning to water to stay cool in this extreme heat. Millions and millions of gallons of it a day.
On Aug. 1, the city of Tulsa used 207.6 MGD (millions of gallons per day), and then hit record levels again on Aug. 2, when water usage reached 207.4 MGD. These levels have prompted Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. to implement voluntary water restrictions by executive order.
"We have asked Tulsa water customers for the last two weeks to watch their water use voluntarily with the goal of avoiding a more restrictive policy," Bartlett said. "However, this summer's punishing heat wave and lack of rainfall continue to push water use in Tulsa to record and near-record levels every day."
According to a city ordinance, two consecutive days of 206 MGD or higher triggers water restrictions among the city's water customers. The city of Tulsa's biggest water customers outside city limits include Bixby, Catoosa, Glenpool, Jenks and Owasso.
The voluntary restrictions limit outside watering (water and irrigation systems, swimming pools and garden hoses and sprinklers) to the hours between midnight and noon every other day.
All well and good until you get to the rules on which every other day you're supposed to water -- it's based on "odd-even house numbering on odd-even calendar days." By the time you figure out that equation, your grass will be dead anyway.
The voluntary restrictions will stay in place until water usage goes down steadily or until a more strict restriction is put into effect (or if a treatment facility runs into trouble or if we head into the Waterocalypse. It could happen.)
The city's splash pads, last bastion of cool fun for the 10-and-under set, are shut down until water restrictions are lifted. Some parents, like mom of four Sheena Ireland are spitfire mad that these kid-cooling areas are closed when it seems they are needed most.
But fear not, Tulsa's four city-run public pools -- Lacy, Whiteside, McClure and Reed -- are still open, for those who need to fit in their watery jollies this summer.
We are under just the first, voluntary stage in a four-tiered system of restrictions, which move up in severity to a mandatory clampdown on our outdoor water usage.
Easy-peasy water-saving tricks
Most of the water we use in the summer goes to landscaping, grass and flowers. The Mayor's office directs Tulsans to wateruseitwisely.com, which lists over a hundred tips on how to save water, some of which are difficult, silly or just plain weird. So your devoted UTW staff has culled these tips and tricks to find easy (even fun) ways to save a few gallons.
Buy new stuff. Newer toilets, dishwashers and clothes washers and dryers all use water and energy more efficiently than their older counterparts. Check for Energy Star labels and go to psoklahoma.com for big-time incentives to get more bang for your energy buck. PSO's Residential Solutions program offers up to $8,250 (through a federal government project) for homeowners who want to make energy efficient upgrades.
Multi-task. Park car, children and pets on your charred lawn. Turn on sprinkler or hose. Just add soap and you'll have a shiny, happy car, dog and kids plus some summer fun all in one!
Multi-task, Round Two! Wash your face and brush your teeth in the shower, too. Saves time (and water) in the morning, when every minute counts.
Don't dump the ice. Drop used or leftover ice cubes from fast food cups into houseplants.
Give it a rest. Water plants less frequently to encourage drought tolerance. Let the lawn go dormant in the summer, and water only every three weeks or less if it rains. Don't cut lower-hanging branches and don't pick up the leaves. This allows leaf litter to accumulate on top of the soil, keeping it cooler and reducing evaporation.
Take a break on laundry day. If it doesn't gross you out, reuse towels and re-wear around-the-house clothes.
Bartlett warned Tulsans to watch how they use water during this heat wave.
"Current water usage is slowly lowering the water level at one of our reservoirs," he said. "The weather forecast calls for more days of extremely hot weather, so it's going to be a challenge...use water wisely."
And the infrastructure creaks on
We're surviving, but the city's infrastructure is groaning under the stress of providing heat relief to Tulsans.
With water demand at record-breaking levels, both of Tulsa's water treatment plants, Mohawk and A.B. Jewell, have been operating at near capacity for weeks.
"This is new territory for us because usage is at record levels," said Clayton Edwards, director of the Water & Sewer Department.
"The plants are being pushed to capacity and are handling the volume and higher pump rates satisfactorily now, but we need to be prepared for potential problems," Edwards said.
At the same time, our electric usage is pushing past the previous usage record set in 2008, as Tulsans blast their air conditioning to battle the heat.
The previously unparalleled usage record was 4,200 megawatts set on August 4, 2008.
On July 27, Tulsa bumped past that record with 4,277 MW used and again on Aug. 1 with 4,331 MW.
The Red Cross is straining to provide services to emergency responders. The organization sets up hydrating canteens with drinks, snacks and sandwiches for policemen and firefighters who are battling wildfires, stand-offs, building fires and other disasters.
QuikTrip donates most of the snacks and beverages to the cause but according to a press release, the Red Cross is stretched thin this year due to exceptionally high demand this summer and a significant storm season before that.
This past July, the Red Cross set up nearly 25 canteens at various emergency response events. In July 2010, the Red Cross only received one canteen request.
All services offered to emergency responders and disaster victims are provided free of charge by the Red Cross.
"We love burn bans"
The sun gods do seem to be focusing their magnifying glass on the Midwest lately. Recently, Tulsa County was slapped with a burn ban to help prevent fires from popping up during the heat wave.
"We love burn bans," said Broken Arrow firefighter and paramedic, Robert Gordon. He and the fellows of Engine Co. 3 have been responding to plenty of grass, car, structure and dumpster fires lately.
He said the burn ban will help prevent some of these fires.
"Can you imagine how many grass fires we'd have if everyone were firing up their outdoor cookers and grills?"
Even for a delish, perfectly seared burger or dog, it's hard to imagine wanting to fire up anything in this weather.
Gordon said all the firefighters in town are handling more heat-related incidents, plus other medical crises that can be exacerbated by high temps.
"Elderly people can't seem to take this extreme heat...and it's causing them to have more problems with their heart or respiratory system, too," he said. "The heat causes a lot more problems than just heat strokes and heat exhaustion."
High temps affect firefighters, too, who are professional battlers of fiery, smoky, roasty-toasty heat. Their heavy, non-breathable gear protects them from burns but also makes them even hotter.
"Our gear's designed to keep out extreme heat," Gordon said. "However, it also holds in all our body heat."
While they put out "more fires than people can possible imagine," fire departments are pro-active about keeping their fighters from developing serious heat-related medical problems. At all fire locations they set up "rehab stations" to cool off hard-working firemen with fans, misters, shade and plenty of Gatorade and water.
"We're trained for that," Gordon said. But in the heat of the summer, he said, it feels 50 to 60 degrees hotter with their gear on and fighting fires becomes "twice as hard."
"When you walk outside in your bunker gear, it feels like you're in a furnace. If it's windy, it feels like someone's blowing a torch in your face," Gordon said.
To combat heat exhaustion, fire departments also send out "a larger number of guys out to attack a situation than they normally would because you have to keep them rotating through the rehab stations," he said. "You get hydrated, get cooled off, and then you go back in."
Though Tulsa has a burn ban now, simple thoughtlessness can still cause fires. "Someone throws a cigarette butt out the window, and we'll be chasing [a fire] for hours," Gordon said.
And while fire departments are extremely cautious about preventing heat-related problems among their fighters, others may not know the steps to take to stay cool and hydrated.
"The way we look out for firefighters' safety, we're able to prevent heat strokes. But the general public, if they're working outside, doing roofing or construction, they'll work all day and can consistently lose fluids, then stop sweating and don't realize what to look for," Gordon said.
Before a person knows what's happening, it's possible to suffer from an irreversible heat stroke. So far this summer, there have been nine reported heat-related deaths in Tulsa, according to EMSA. Most often, these deaths occurred in people who worked outside, usually in construction.
Channeling Lieutenant Dangle
This intense Oklahoma heat even has the Tulsa Police Department stripping down. Not in bare-all khaki shorts -- like Lieutenant Dangle's ever-tinier jumpsuits on Reno 911! -- but the department has temporarily authorized uniformed patrol officers to wear a police football jersey.
This lightweight jersey has an official badge imprinted on the front and the words Tulsa Police on the back.
If you're concerned about the identity of a police officer, just ask to see the identification they must have at all times.
Before this temporary "summer uniform," was put into place, only officers in specialty units (say, gangs) were allowed to wear the jersey. But now all patrol officers have the option to don the new fashion.
The uniform was approved to prevent heat-related illness in officers who are still patrolling outdoors. Crime doesn't stop just because it gets hot.
It's a dry heat!
Specialist Barrett Hall is an Oklahoman currently serving in Afghanistan. His company is on a medical mission that provides fellow American soldiers, contractors and Afghan civilians and Afghan National Army soldiers with medical and dental care, he said.
"I've heard it has been really hot back home," Hall said.
At the same time, Hall said, the temps in Afghanistan have been averaging between 120 and 130 degrees and beyond.
"Thankfully, it's a dry heat though that doesn't make it feel any cooler," Hall said.
He and the other soldiers are drinking lots of water and pouring it over their clothes to help cool down in the Afghan heat. "It really helps cool our body temps down," he said.
Oklahoma's finest are sweatin' it out in their tours-of-duty overseas but "the rewards will last a lifetime," Hall said.
Cure-alls for Tulsa's dog days
So, what now? We can't put our lives on hold until this suffering heat releases us from its grasp. It seems that everyone's got their own unique ways of coping with the extreme weather.
Moore, seven months pregnant with her "blizzard baby," said she relies on cold showers, Burt's Bees peppermint lotion and cucumber water in addition to "just generally forcing myself to go to work early so I can siesta in the afternoon!"
The mayor also said that outdoor city workers have started their work day an hour earlier "to beat the afternoon heat."
Construction workers, like Justin "Dusty" Salas, head to work at 6am so he can escape the after-4pm inferno.
The workers on his crew, who are renovating a building on 6th Street, have several big fans blowing hot air around as they hydrate with Gatorade and water.
And then there are those, like Tulsan Matt Moore, who can avoid daylight hours altogether.
We here at the UTW recommend going out and using someone else's air conditioner. Movie theaters are notorious for icebox temperatures or you could go park yourself in the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store, a chilly mall department store, or your buddy's house, where he's cranking up a brand-new growling-monster a/c with a 300-ton AC compressor.
And why not use this weather as an excuse to party? A clothing-optional ice and frozen drink party could be the shindig of the year.
But dogs can't party, so we've got to give some love to our four-legged friends, too. Annie McDonald said she keeps her French bulldog, Emmie, cool by putting ice in her water and she also gives Emmie chilly fun by soaking and freezing her rope toys.
For kids of the two-legged variety, Big Splash is always a big hit. Recently, however, even this watery haven had to start rotating their lifeguards on and off duty every 45 minutes because of the heat.
On Aug. 3, Big Splash held their Waves of Worship event from 7-10pm, which meant the water park was open for 12 hours. To make sure their lifeguards stayed hydrated and hyper-vigilant, Bill VanThaden, Big Splash assistant manager and lifeguard supervisor, rotated not only lifeguards but which attractions were open in a given hour.
Every 45 minutes, lifeguards switched from their perches to air conditioned recovery areas while patrons alternated between the activity pool and master blaster, and the wave pool and flumes. It wasn't standard operating procedure but then again, "There's nothing normal about 115 degree days and 12 hour workdays," said VanThaden.
Big Splash's attendance numbers have dipped a little due to excessive summer heat, so the park is offering pricing specials, VanThaden said.
The water park is open every day until Aug. 15, when their 38 lifeguards will be starting back to school. After that date, Big Splash will be open only on weekends until Labor Day.
A word from the Mayor
"For the past couple of weeks, Tulsans have been enduring extreme heat with no relief in sight. We ask that everyone stay hydrated and take indoor breaks to cool down if you must be outside," Mayor Bartlett said.
For those who don't have ready access to water and air conditioning, three cooling stations in town can help. One is at Tulsa County Social Services, 2401 Charles Page Blvd., open from 8:30am-8:30pm every day; the second is at Salvation Army Center of Hope, 102 N. Denver Ave., open 24/7 until the heat wave is over; and the third is at Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 E. 4th St., open from noon to 9pm every day.
Call the 211 Helpline or the American Red Cross at 918-831-1109 for what we're sure will be juicy info on extreme heat safety.
We're just too cool for this
In the end, it may be a zillion degrees outside, our infrastructure may be groaning under the weight of a few hundred thousand air conditioning units and the sputtering of an army of sprinklers and a menacing platoon of wildfires -- but damn it, we're still too cool for this.
Think of how they do it in Spain. Pray for rain on the plain, dress lightly, eat gazpacho and drink white wine or mineral water. Siesta from 2-5pm and dinner at midnight.
And if all else fails, you can figure out that equation for water rationing and come up with a more creative solution.
When God gives you a heat wave, create a new paradigm.
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