Triple-digit heat continues in Mid-Columbia

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJuly 14, 2014 

If you find the 100-degree heat scorching as you walk across a parking lot into a Tri-City strip mall, think about the workers on top of the building who are taking a beating from the sun’s rays.

When triple-digit temperatures hit every summer, roofers don’t have the option of canceling jobs until there’s a cool down because they have deadlines to meet.

So Mike Chavez, manager at Royal Roofing & Siding, makes sure everyone takes extra precautions to avoid sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Employees protect themselves with hats, sunglasses, sunblock and long-sleeve shirts so their skin won’t blister or peel, stock up on water, salt tablets and electrolytes to prevent dehydration and muscle cramping, and take breaks in the shade.

The Pasco business specializes in doing flat, white roofs for commercial properties, such as malls and strip malls. The roofing material is a thermal plastic like linoleum, and reflects 86 percent to 87 percent of the sun’s rays, he said.

“It’s basically double the sunshine for (those roofers),” Chavez told the Herald on Monday.

And they won’t see a change in workplace conditions until Friday, when temperatures will drop below 100 and bring some relief from the heat wave. However, the Mid-Columbia will continue to experience above-normal temperatures with the summertime’s usual high-pressure system.

“The West is hot right now,” said Robert Cramp, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton. “July and August typically are the hottest times of the year.”

Pasco registered 104 degrees Monday, and has been above the century mark for six of the past seven days. Last Thursday came up short at 97.

The Tri-Cities is 10 to 15 degrees above the normal 89, Cramp said.

Today should top off at 103, Wednesday will be the hottest at 105 and Thursday is forecast for 101, then it will cool to 93 Friday and 92 for the weekend.

Pasco won’t start breaking records until the 105- to 110- degree range, Cramp said.

Yakima set a record Monday at 104, breaking the 103 set in 1955. And Walla Walla came in at 107 on Sunday, besting the 106 set in 2002. Excessive temperatures usually mean a higher demand on air-conditioning systems, and a unit’s failure to cool can lead to frantic calls for help.

Hillary Nesary, who handles dispatch and scheduling for Bruce Heating and Air-Conditioning, said the Kennewick company saw a “very dramatic increase” in service calls this past weekend.

“Maintenance is very imperative to keep your system running,” Nesary said.

Employees have been working longer hours to meet the need, starting at 7 a.m. and working up to 9:30 p.m. or even later on the weekend, she said. The company — which also has an office in Hermiston — does offer 24-hour service if a customer wants to pay the overtime rate.

Most units are outdoors, either next to the building or on the roof, so the workers know to dress accordingly, wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water and take breaks, Nesary said. Attic calls are scheduled for morning hours before it heats up.

Chavez, with Royal Roofing & Siding, said the business has had to adjust work shifts when handling residential jobs. For now, roofers are starting as early as 6 a.m. and taking off during the hottest time in the late morning and afternoon, then getting back to work from 3 to 8 p.m.

He acknowledges that it does affect customers when they learn workers will be on site that early or late in the day.

Chavez points out that asphalt shingles are more heat conductive, so if it’s 100 degrees outside, then it will be about 115 to 120 on the roof. And when it gets so hot, workers can’t stand on the roof because it will damage the now-gooey shingles, he said.

“It just comes down to kind of like a very slow pace because they just can’t work as fast as they’d like to,” Chavez said. “But heat exhaustion, it just takes its toll right away.”

John Peterson has a quick solution for cooling down your body’s core — grab a bowl of his dairy-free sorbet at Yoplicity Frozen Yogurt. The West 27th Place’s current featured flavor is watermelon, but that should run out this week and be replaced by pink lemonade.

The owner said his shop is a good alternative for a cool-down after activities, with a lot of youth in sports camps stopping by once the doors open at 11 a.m.

Yoplicity features sorbet, smoothies, 10 flavors of frozen yogurt and 50 toppings, including fresh-cut fruit and candy.

“Summer is definitely a better season for us,” Peterson said. “The heat may be bringing people in earlier during the day, and then in the evening we’ll get a lot of people coming out once it starts to cool off.”

Columbia Basin Racquet Club’s Pelican Bay Water Play hasn’t necessarily seen a huge influx of swimmers and bathers in the past few days, but the heat wave has prompted staff to add an extra shift with an additional lifeguard so they don’t bake in the sun for long periods of time.

Cole Willis said lifeguards now are taking breaks twice as often then they would if it was cooler. Their shifts last four to five hours, and they typically do an entire rotation through nine stations, some of which involve spending time in the water.

Pelican Bay in Richland was built for its members, but non-members can use the facility, including the pools, up to three times in a calendar year at a visitor admission rate.

The Terminal Drive club has indoor and outdoor pools.

Pelican Bay, which is all outdoors, has a 25-meter pool for lap swim and lessons and a zero-depth entry pool. There’s also a lazy river for floating, a splash zone, a play structure with dumping buckets and spray guns, and fun features like a water-climbing wall, a drop slide, diving board and basketball hoops, Willis said.

The facility has plans to put in a large water slide in the next couple of years, which will up their status from a leisure pool to a water park. Willis — who is in transition from the club’s longtime aquatics director to general manager starting Sept. 1 — said they likely would have seen higher numbers of people if this excessive heat had occurred at the beginning of summer.

“I think we’re kind of in the middle of vacation season, so definitely the people who are home are here, but we’re not inundated,” Willis said.

w Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com;Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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