By ADRIAN SAINZ
MEMPHIS (AP) — Memphis-area officials are urging residents who are sick, elderly or don’t have an air conditioner to take special precautions as temperatures approach 100 degrees and the risk of heat-related deaths rises.
Temperatures will climb into the high-90s and even 100 degrees or above by the middle and end of the week in much of Tennessee, according to the National Weather Service. A weather service advisory said that it will feel like a “pressure cooker” in Middle Tennessee by Friday.
The National Weather Service is calling for local temperatures to be near 94 today, with highs reaching 103 on Thursday, 104 on Friday and 105 on Saturday.
The heat and abnormally dry weather is expected to worsen drought conditions in parts of the state. In West Tennessee, officials are warning of an increased risk of fire due to hot and dry conditions.
In Shelby County, which includes Memphis, officials are telling people to check on elderly relatives and neighbors who live alone to make sure they are safe from the heat. The county also sends out air quality messages each day to make sure residents with respiratory problems are aware of any potential breathing hazards.
Meanwhile, the City of Memphis is urging citizens — especially those without air conditioners — to use community centers, senior centers and libraries as cooling stations.
“We are also monitoring the situation and may open up other cooling centers or expand hours of cooling centers as needed,” city spokeswoman Mary Cashiola wrote in an email.
In the past two years, 29 people have died from heat-related causes in Shelby County, with 21 in 2010 and eight last year, according to the county health department.
In efforts to avoid heat-related deaths, the county’s main utility, Memphis Light, Gas & Water, will not disconnect residential customers’ power when the forecast heat index will be 95 degrees or above for customers who are 60 years old or older, physically challenged or dependent on life-support.
Earlier this year, the utility handed out 200 free window units for older, low-income residents who did not have a working air conditioner.
The utility also has a hot-weather program that allows customers who have had their electricity turned off due to lack of payment to have it reconnected for a $275 fee. The utility will then allow the customer to pay the remainder of what is owed in a five-month deferred payment plan.
“This summer we’re expecting high temperatures a lot sooner, because we didn’t have much of a winter,” said Jackie Reed, spokeswoman for Memphis Light, Gas & Water.
But not everyone hates the heat. Many parents with children on summer vacation look to keep cool by going to community swimming pools or a handful of “splash parks” located in Shelby County.
These splash parks have spray stations and fountains that shoot cold water, allowing kids to fight off the heat while they play.
At Peabody Park in Memphis, about 15 children chased and splashed water on each other as their parents watched.
“They love it,” said Shanese Floyd, who took her three children and a nephew to the park. “What kid doesn’t like to play in the water?”
Published in The Messenger 6.27.12