Midwest can’t get any relief from oppressive heat

Excessive heat warning continues for southern Wisconsin
Midwest can’t get any relief from oppressive heat

Oppressive heat is slamming the Midwest with record temperatures that aren’t going away after the sun goes down.

St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago and several other Midwest cities already have set record highs this week or are on the verge of doing so. But even low temperatures are setting heat records, meaning there’s no relief, even at night.

One way cities are helping residents seek relief is with cooling centers. In Madison, Casimir Brandon slept at one 24-hour center after he could only toss and turn in his bedroom. He said he had begun riding air-conditioned buses to sneak some shuteye.

For others, getting relief has meant stepping away from work. Illinois construction worker John Rohlfing had to quit by 11 a.m. Thursday, when temperatures hit 99 degrees.

WISC-TV meteorologist Gary Cannalte said that for the second consecutive day, the temperature Thursday has reached triple digits in Madison. For the fourth consecutive day, Madison has set a record high temperature.

Cannalte said another 100 degree high temperature is possible for Friday, and that would tie another record.

Wednesday’s high of 102 degrees was the sixth warmest day in the history of recorded temperatures in Madison. The hottest day ever recorded was July 14, 1936 when we hit 107 degrees.

The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for much of the southern and western part of the state until 10 p.m. Friday.

The weather is forcing local officials around the area to take precautions for residents so they can beat the heat. Many communities around southern Wisconsin have opened cooling shelters so people without air conditioning have a place to go.

Dane County leaders are urging neighbors to check on neighbors, especially those who are elderly and live alone.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said staying ahead of the heat is crucial.

“The key to getting through these next few days is preparedness and prevention, and there are a lot of practical steps people can take by staying inside, staying cool. We can direct you to places if you don’t have a place to stay cool,” Parisi said.

Parisi said Dane County Human Services works with the community’s most vulnerable citizens every day.

Patricia Thomas, 61, lives in her Chevy Blazer after losing her home to foreclosure. She said dealing with the heat has been a big challenge.

“This is why my feet, legs and ankles are so swollen,” said Thomas, cramped in the driver seat of her vehicle. “I’m like this 24/7. And in a hot car, you’re just hoping you could get through it.”

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Word of Thomas’ struggle got around to Sun Prairie’s Colonial Club Senior Center.

“I want good for her. I want the best for her,” said case manager Gail Brooks. “I want something positive to happen for her.”

Case managers brought Thomas and her pet inside to get relief from the dangerous temperatures.

“It’s a big difference here,” Thomas said. “You’re in air conditioning where you’re not struggling. You’re not sweating. You’re comfortable.”

Thomas said it felt wonderful to be able to take a bath.

“It’s like being human again,” Thomas said, after getting cleaned up and eating a meal. “Yes, it’s a big relief knowing I got someplace to go now. I didn’t have that before.”

Thousands of people gathered at Elver Park in Madison on Tuesday night to watch the fireworks, and extra medical staff and paramedics were on hand to help with any heat-related problems.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said the city will keep two cooling centers open to help residents with the heat.

The city decided late Monday to open up Monona Terrace and the Warner Park recreation center overnight to help residents in need of relief from the heat. The Red Cross provided staff, water and beds for the overnight cooling shelters.

Soglin said the Warner Park recreation center will remain open as a cooling center through Saturday morning.

The mayor said Monona Terrace will remain open as a cooling center through Thursday morning.

Both cooling centers are free and open 24 hours a day. The city is also offering free bus rides to and from the cooling centers.

Soglin said it’s the first time the city has had to open shelters of this kind.

“This is very different than anything we’ve had, at least since the 1930s, and that is because of not just the length of time the heat is covering us, but the fact that we’re getting no relief in the evenings,” Soglin said.

St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison has treated eight people for heat-related illnesses since the beginning of the week, including one Tuesday morning.

The state of Wisconsin has issued a public health advisory due to the high temperatures.

“We are asking everyone to take precautions to avoid heat exhaustion, and to check on their family, friends and neighbors who may be especially vulnerable to extreme heat,” said Dr. Henry Anderson, state health officer. “By making everyone aware of safety measures and helping them recognize the warning signs of heat exhaustion, we can prevent heat-related illness and death.”

State officials said most heat-related illnesses involve the elderly or people that have chronic illnesses, although they said children, athletes and outdoor workers are also at risk. 

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