Severe Heat Wave Cloaks Much Of The US

Guests

Tim O'Neil, reporter, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Howie Bluestein, meteorologist
Anayeli Ruiz, reporter, NewsWest 9
Charles Ray, reporter, South Dakota Public Broadcasting

The rising temperatures have killed citizens and hurt businesses. In many places, the triple-digit weather is making devastating droughts even worse for farmers and ranchers. Thousands of cattle have died across South Dakota. In Iowa, the blistering sun caused a portion of Interstate 380 to buckle.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. A heat wave in July is no real surprise, but this one's a doozy. The immense heat bubble that built up over the South and Midwest arrived on the East Coast today. So far, it's blamed for the deaths of nearly two dozen people.

Triple-digit weather hurts a lot of businesses and traps a lot of people indoors. In many places, the heat bakes land parched by drought and makes things even worse for farmers and ranchers.

Up to 1,500 head of cattle died across the state of South Dakota. In eastern Iowa, a portion of Interstate 380 buckled in the heat. How is the heat affecting your work and your life? Give us a call. Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, a heartbreaking letter from the Civil War and the Battle of Bull Run, 150 years ago today. But first, the big heat. And let's start with a caller. Sister Mary Beth is on the line with us from Cincinnati.

Sister MARY BETH: Hello, Neal.

CONAN: Hi, Sister Mary Beth. How are you?

BETH: I'm doing fine, thank you. A little hot but doing well.

CONAN: A little warm. How's it affecting your life?

BETH: Well, I run a large soup kitchen hospitality center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where we're about 107 degrees. And we normally do 400 to 500 meals a day. But our meals have increased dramatically over the last couple weeks because of this heat.

Many of our guests are - at least half of them are homeless. So they don't have any place to get out of the heat, too. And those that aren't homeless don't have air conditioning. And in the middle of the city center where there are no trees, just lots of concrete, it seems to even bake more.

CONAN: Does the city have cooling centers? I know some do.

BETH: Yes, yes. They do have cooling centers this year. So we're very grateful for that. So we don't have to stretch our staff quite as far.

CONAN: I wonder, what does a soup kitchen serve when the weather is so hot?

BETH: Sandwiches.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BETH: And lots of salad and ice water and cold drinks.

CONAN: That's a great idea. Keeping people hydrated is absolutely critical.

BETH: Correct.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much. We wish you good luck.

BETH: Well, thank you so much.

CONAN: Tim O'Neil is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and he joins us from his office there on the phone. Nice to have you with us today.

TIM O'NEIL: Thank you, Neal, (unintelligible).

And officials in St. Louis and other cities are asking people to stay inside when possible, also to check on their friends. People who deliver meals and people like that are being asked to make sure that all their clients are okay.

Right.

CONAN: Go ahead.

O'NEIL: No, I - supposedly, the city is going to have a bunch of people do a sweep tomorrow and knock on the doors of anybody who hasn't taken phone calls yet. But there are a bunch of cooling centers around here, although frankly, most people don't use them because I don't know what it's like in Cincinnati or Chicago these days, but pretty much rich or poor, most residences around here have at least a window unit.

CONAN: A window air conditioner. Yet one of your stories, I was reading earlier today, a woman died in her home. The room had a working air conditioner; she just didn't have it on.

O'NEIL: Right. That has become the classic heat death nowadays, at least around here. The last time there was a really terrible killer heat wave, 1980, we had about 150 people die, and the classic then was an elderly person in a low-income neighborhood who had his or her windows shut because they feared burglars.

Nowadays, unfortunately, it's somebody who thinks they can tough their way through the heat like they used to in the old days or just are afraid of the bills.

CONAN: Afraid of the shock of opening the electric bill.

O'NEIL: Um-huh.

CONAN: As the - it is interesting, though, that there are so many fewer deaths this year than just a few years ago, back in 1995.

O'NEIL: Well, part of that is the heat. I mean, it's a balmy 102 here, and come visit as soon as you can, which is hot, but 1980, it was 107, it was 106. I mean, we had a number of days that were hotter than that. And 107 is hotter than 102 by a good measure.

But primarily the difference in the death rate around here is the almost universal use of at least a window air conditioner.

CONAN: And as the city adjusts, there in St. Louis, I know it's also been very persistent. It's been there for some days.

O'NEIL: The - well, this is our fourth day at 100. I defer to Dallas, which has been a lot hotter for longer. But 102 is pretty hot. And one of the things about this town, and I'm sure Cincinnati is very much the same way, is that most of - most all of old St. Louis was built of brick - good, sturdy, German brick. And you heat up those houses with tar roofs over three or four days, and you've got a baking oven.

CONAN: And they sort of radiate heat through the night, too.

O'NEIL: They don't cool off very well. I live in one myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Nice in the wintertime, though.

O'NEIL: I'm sorry?

CONAN: Nice in the wintertime.

O'NEIL: Oh, much better in the winter.

CONAN: Has the city taken actions like closing various venues or - well, the cooling centers you mentioned.

O'NEIL: No, there really hasn't been anything closed. The cooling centers are open. For the most part, those are senior centers. They just double. They ask people to come on by. I've called around a couple of days, and it's pretty sparse. Cooling centers might have one or two or three people.

For the most part, folks are just staying in with the A/C on, which would be the wise thing to do, obviously.

CONAN: So I suspect radio and television ratings are doing pretty well during the daytime.

O'NEIL: I would think so. You have lots of listeners right now.

CONAN: Tim O'Neil, thanks very much for your time today, we appreciate it.

O'NEIL: Okay.

CONAN: Tim O'Neil is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and we spoke to him from his office there. We'd like to hear your stories of the heat. How is it affecting your life and your job? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Let's go to Rob, Rob with us from Mason in Ohio.

ROB: Hi, Neal, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ROB: I'm a tree-climber, professional arborist. It's pretty strenuous work. I mean, sometimes you may have to haul yourselves maybe 80 foot up in a tree. So trying to deal with this heat is really problematic, especially since we had such a wet spring, and it was tough to get any work done.

So it's been, you know, either too wet or too hot. But currently, I'm just trying to deal with it and drink lots of water and try to make it through.

CONAN: Is it more dangerous for you when, well, you could slip because of the sweat?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROB: You know, that's a really good point because, I mean, honestly you're sweating so hard that you may make a puddle, and yeah, you do have to take that into consideration. You know, your rope may get a little extra-slippery, and you get friction (unintelligible) extra-slippery. So it's one little extra, added danger to it, so...

CONAN: And for those who haven't seen an arborist work, you get yourself around with pulleys. You bring yourself up in the tree.

ROB: Actually, maybe pulleys, or sometimes we just loop our rope over a natural crotch and kind of pull ourselves up. So it's more of a natural pulley system. But, you know, you still are lifting half your weight, you know, for a good distance, and you may go up and down and move around, so...

CONAN: And you're usually hauling a chainsaw.

ROB: Yeah, that's another added thing. You might have, you know, seven to 13 pounds on your hip, plus other gear. And, you know, and a hard hat, which sometimes is, you know, an added heat stress to you because you're not able to get air circulation around your head.

CONAN: Well, make sure even though I'm sure it weighs a lot, a couple of bottles of water.

ROB: Oh yeah, yeah, that's important to take, too, so.

CONAN: Thanks very much, be careful.

ROB: All right, thank you, bye-bye.

CONAN: Here's an email from Patrick(ph): I ride a motorcycle as my primary transportation every day that rain doesn't threaten for work, commuting, errands and recreation. When it gets up to 101 degrees, as it is today in Kansas City, the heat is hitting me like a blast furnace. The road radiates heat like an oven, and the engine beneath me is like straddling a bonfire, and my head is encased in a roasting helmet.

However, I get 42 miles per gallon on the bike, as opposed to 15 in my air-conditioned truck. So it makes this mode of transportation a necessary discomfort, even though I'm soaked with sweat when I've arrived as my destination.

Let's go next to JP, JP with us from San Antonio.

JP: Yes, I was just calling about here in Texas, we are - I heard somebody comment about Dallas, and here in South Central Texas, you know, last year, we were 90-plus days over 100 degrees. And this year, it seems to be trending. We got a little bit of rain last couple of days ago, but you look around now, and you can't even tell.

CONAN: What business are you in?

JP: I'm in real estate. And I was telling your screener there it's interesting when the heat gets like this, most of our inner-city is built on clay, and clay expands and contracts. When it's really wet out, it expands, and when it's really dry out, it contracts.

So we've having obviously issues in selling homes. People that come from - that relocate to San Antonio with the military or what have you, they walk through houses, they see these cracks in drywall and the foundations and stuff and don't have any idea of, understanding of it.

So we're having to educate people that, you know, this is a come-and-go thing, and it's just - I was curious if any other places in the U.S. experience that kind of stuff.

CONAN: In terms of the prevalence of cracks in foundations and that sort of thing?

JP: Correct, correct.

CONAN: Well, we'll maybe get a call and find out.

JP: Well, thank you very much, Neal. I enjoy your show.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. This email from Jocelyn(ph) in Buffalo: My one-year-old son and I will be taking a walk through the mall tonight instead of Delaware Park, like we usually do on Thursdays. It's not as much fun, but it's much more comfortable.

Let's go next to - this is Evelyn, Evelyn with us from Salisbury in North Carolina.

EVELYN: Hi, Neal, how are you?

CONAN: I'm good, thank you.

EVELYN: Hope you're staying cool.

CONAN: Nice and cool in the radio studio. That's one thing they're very good at.

EVELYN: Well, we're roofing out here in Salisbury, North Carolina, and it's anything but cool. And what I found in this temperatures, like tomorrow when it's supposed to get at about 100, we won't put the crew up in the roof. But like today, they're staying a couple of hours on the roof and 30 minutes under the shade, and they're going through a lot of T-shirts because they do sweat a lot when they're up on that roof.

CONAN: I bet they do.

EVELYN: If you see a roofer, tell them how much you appreciate them.

CONAN: Okay, are these tar roofs?

EVELYN: Shingle roofs.

CONAN: Shingle roofs. So it's not quite so bad. But those shingles can almost burn they get so hot.

EVELYN: Yes, they need to wear gloves because black is a popular color when you're doing asphalt shingle roofs, and they do get extremely hot, yes.

CONAN: It's interesting, Hilda Solis, the secretary of labor, mentioned roofers when she held a conference call to remind workers' companies have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace, to make sure employees have enough water, get occasional breaks, as you mentioned, to cool down and get immediate medical help if they're showing signs of heat stroke. Those at greatest risk: farm workers, construction workers, roofers, baggage handlers, road crews, landscapers and car sellers who spend their days walking across acres of hot asphalt.

We wish your crews the best of luck, Evelyn.

EVELYN: Thank you, have a great one, bye-bye.

CONAN: Thank you. We're talking with people around the country about their experiences in the heat that has spread from the Midwest and the South now to the East Coast, which is expected to be the hottest part of the country tomorrow, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We know it's hot in many places. A glance at the thermometer tells it's hot here in Washington. Recent government data, though, confirms that temperatures across the country are, on average, rising.

Every 10 years, NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calculates the normal temperatures for most U.S. cities. A few weeks ago, those numbers showed that the new normal temperatures are, on average, a half a degree higher.

And the U.S. of the 2000s was about a degree and a half warmer than the U.S. of the 1970s. So it's getting hotter.

How is the heat affecting your work and your life? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now from member station KGNU in Boulder, Colorado, is Howie Bluestein, a meteorologist and research professor at the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology, and nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

HOWIE BLUESTEIN: Nice to be back.

CONAN: And we keep hearing this referred to as a heat bubble as opposed to a heat wave.

BLUESTEIN: Well, this is an area of air in the middle part of the troposphere up about 20,000 feet and above that's circulating in a clockwise manner, and it's just sitting in one place. It migrates a little bit from east to west on a day-to-day basis, but it's been pretty persistently centered in the southern Plains. So it is in fact like a bubble.

CONAN: And how long is it likely to sit there?

BLUESTEIN: Boy, I wish I knew. This is the hottest part of the summer. And this time of the year, the jet stream migrates up to the north, up to near the Canadian border, and the bubble can move back and forth, and it probably could stay in place for another month or so.

But I don't think we can predict very well what's going to happen more than a few weeks in advance.

CONAN: And is this a common pattern, summertime pattern?

BLUESTEIN: Yes, this is a real common summer pattern. What's I think a little bit unusual is that it's been extremely persistent. Oftentimes, the pattern breaks down, and we get waves that come through, as opposed to this large anti-cyclonic, clockwise-rotating gyre.

Later on in the weekend, a cold front will actually come down through the northeastern part of the United States. I'm sure that people there will be happy to hear that. You should also be aware that the Pacific Northwest has been relatively cool. They're not having a heat wave at all.

CONAN: We were hearing earlier today, in fact a very rainy summer in Portland, Oregon.

BLUESTEIN: That's right. There's been a trough of low pressure anchored off the West Coast, the northwest, and that hasn't moved inland or done very much at all. That's been very persistent.

When you get a pattern like this, which persists for a long period of time, this is when we get our very, very, very bad hot spells.

CONAN: And is this connected to the drought in any way that's been so persistent there in Oklahoma and in Texas?

BLUESTEIN: That's a very complicated question. Certainly when the ground is very dry, the radiation from the sun doesn't have to evaporate the water from the ground up into the atmosphere, and so it can certainly get a lot warmer. And probably that does account for some of the heat, at least in the southern Plains, in Oklahoma and Texas and Kansas.

However, when you get farther to the east, some of the areas have had a lot of rain, and there it probably could be even warmer if the ground were dry. The bad news is that with all that moisture in the ground, it's evaporating into the air, and it feels more humid or muggy.

CONAN: Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed it does. When I was - it's not an expression I hear too much anymore. When I was a kid, we dreaded the Bermuda high.

BLUESTEIN: Well, yes, the Bermuda high is the surface high-pressure area off the East Coast of the United States that's responsible for the prevailing southerly and southwesterly winds in the United States. Right now, the Bermuda high, if you will, extends all the way to the west, into the mid-western part of the United States. So a lot of the hot air from the south-central U.S. is being blown right up through the Great Lakes and up into the Northeast.

CONAN: And what can we take away from that new normal, those higher temperature norms released by NOAA earlier this week? The average U.S. increased by .5 degrees Fahrenheit.

BLUESTEIN: Well, I think that some people feel that this might be due to global warming. It could be due to the increased urban area. Or it could be a regular - a sign of regular natural variability, where you go for 20 or 30 years where it's a little bit warmer and then 20 or 30 years where it's a little bit cooler.

I don't think we know for sure what the answer is.

CONAN: So we have to wait and see how these things average out?

BLUESTEIN: Yes, we do.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much, Howie Bluestein, appreciate your time as always.

BLUESTEIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Howie Bluestein, a meteorologist, a research professor at the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology and with us today from member station KGNU in Boulder, Colorado.

Let's go to Ian(ph). Ian's with us from Burlington in Kentucky.

IAN: Hey, Neal, how are you doing today?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

IAN: First of all, I'd like to say I love your show. I listen to it every day on my way home from work. And I was driving home today, down 75, and I was just covered in my own sweat from having to work in - I work in a factory, and a lot of the time we get temperatures that exceed the triple digits - or not exceed, but that are in the triple digits.

You know, when it's 95 outside, it could be roughly, you know, 110 inside.

CONAN: Is this one of those huge factories, where they say oh, it's just not practical to cool such a big space?

IAN: Yes, it's pretty good size. I mean, they do the best they can to ventilate the place, but, you know, I mean, you can only do so much when you have, like, you know, a couple hundred workers inside. You know, I mean, they basically, like, in order to try and keep us cooled off, they give us free water and, you know, Gatorade and things like that, which is really nice.

But, I'll tell you, you know, the job that I do, I work on these machines that are about as big as, you know, a lot of people's houses. And it gets - it gets pretty hot, you know. And we have to wear a lot of safety glasses and things like that. And a lot of the time, they fog up and makes the job really difficult. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IAN: But, yeah, a lot of industrial jobs around here are, you know, like I said, they're - there's a lot of them here, and it's really difficult to work in this heat, you know, and there's not really a whole lot that they can do about that, you know.

CONAN: Do you have an air conditioner in the car?

IAN: Oh, yeah, there's definitely an air conditioner in my car.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Well, good on that. Well, thanks very much for the call, and thanks for the kind words, as well.

IAN: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Here's an email from Pat(ph) in Moorhead, Minnesota: I work for the city forestry department, and we've been planting over 10 trees daily plus marking Dutch elm diseased trees and spend a full eight hours outside. It is very miserable in this heat, with a heat index of 115 degrees earlier in this week.

This from Susan(ph): I work for a nonprofit that trains service dogs for individuals with physical disabilities. The heat is hard for a service dog. Their pads burn on the pavement, and they can get overheated and sick. Many of our clients are staying home rather than risk injury to their service dog.

And let's see if we can go next to Jennifer(ph), Jennifer with us from the Twin Cities.

JENNIFER: Yes, hi. I'm actually a ballet dancer, classical ballet dancer. And the company that I work for, we actually don't have air conditioning in the dance studios. So in the Twin Cities, the heat index was, you know, 119, 118 I think at one point on Tuesday. It was pretty awful to be dancing, you know, all day during the hottest part of the day, and we were sweating onto the floor and then slipping in our own sweat. It was pretty gross.

CONAN: And you had to do this because - they didn't give you breaks?

JENNIFER: No, we definitely got breaks. But, you know, we're rehearsing for performances. And so we were definitely taking breaks, and we actually had, you know, a popsicle break. They got us some popsicles and ice slushies, so we were - lots of cold washcloths around the necks to stay cool.

But, you know, you're trying to do your job, and when you're getting ready for performance, there's a date that you have to be ready for. So you rehearse. And we're, you know, lots of water and also, you know, Gatorade because if you drink too much water, that can be bad, too. You can over-drink water. So Gatorade and popsicles.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: And popsicles. It must be nice to actually go home and lie down.

JENNIFER: It really is. You get in the car, you get the air conditioning going in the car, and, you know, just try and get your body cool. But, you know, also you're just soaked. You know, you're in your dance clothes and just totally soaked.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much. Do the best you can, and good luck.

JENNIFER: Thank you, it's much cooler today, so...

CONAN: Okay. Joining us now from Midland, Texas, is Anayeli Ruiz, a reporter who covers West Texas for NewsWest 9. Nice to have you with us today.

ANAYELI RUIZ: Hi, thank you for having me.

CONAN: And West Texas, not only is it hot, it's been dry for quite some time.

RUIZ: Oh, it's been really, really dry I think since last year. We haven't really had any significant rain. And it's definitely, you know, hurt everyone out here.

CONAN: And I know that there are a lot of water restrictions in various communities. They're trying different things to make sure that they have enough water for essential services.

RUIZ: Yes, definitely. Things are getting really strict out here. You know, some cities have gone to two days a week watering. And we've actually seen one city in the past week who went to one day a week watering. And people are just, you know, trying to conserve as much water as possible because it's so dry. It's completely dried our lakes, so there's no water out there. So even if - some people might be wondering, you know, why - because our lakes are just so dry there's nothing there. So if we waste the little water that we do have, it's just going to be gone.

CONAN: And are people beginning to get alarmed?

RUIZ: Well, yeah. And some people, you know, actually started some new businesses. I don't know if you guys heard, but out here some people are actually starting to paint their grass green, to keep their grass green because everything is just brown everywhere. And people are trying to do - conserve as much. You know, people are trying to also drill water wells to see if they can get some water on that side. And there's been a lot of business increase in the water well business. They're just so busy right now. Everybody just needs water. Everybody - that's pretty much on everybody's mind out here.

CONAN: I read one of your stories earlier today that at least one community was offering incentives for gardens that, what was the phrase, Practice with Cactus?

RUIZ: Yes, it's called Practice with Cactus. And one community is actually giving - trying to incent people to, I guess, turn to a more dry, I guess, desert landscape in order to conserve water because that doesn't use as much water. And so they're offering $500, you know, for the most creative lawn. And people are actually excited about it. A lot of people are kind of taking this seriously and are changing their way of life, I guess.

CONAN: West Texas, of course, is oil country, but there are a lot of farmers out there too. How are they doing with this?

RUIZ: Yes, there's a lot of cotton farmers, and we also have cantaloupes actually are out here, so - but a lot of those people usually use well water. But they're also having trouble because, you know, the well water is actually going down, so it's costing them more money to drill their water and to bring the water out to their crops.

CONAN: You profiled one cantaloupe grower who's expanded from about 100 acres to 200 acres and seem to be doing really well.

RUIZ: Yes, they are actually doing well, but it is costing them more to drill the water. But, yes, they're doing great. They expanded. And I think they're going to, like, a bigger, more commercial stores like Kroger and Wal-Mart and stuff like that.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it. And keep drinking that water. It's really important to stay hydrated if you can.

RUIZ: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

CONAN: Anayeli Ruiz, a reporter who covers West Texas for NewsWest 9. She joined us on the phone from Midland, Texas. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News. And let's go to another side of the state. Simon joins us from San Antonio.

SIMON: Hey, how's it going?

CONAN: Pretty good.

SIMON: Big fan. I install DirecTV, so spend a lot of time outside near the roofs. But the worst part of it, especially here in Texas, is having to do attic work, because, you know, it's 100 outside. I mean, God knows, 130 or something in an attic and it gets pretty miserable.

CONAN: DirecTV - for those who don't know, it's the system that has a satellite dish you have install up, up high in a building, right?

SIMON: Of course. Who doesn't know that? Come on.

CONAN: Oh.

SIMON: Go on. OK, yeah.

CONAN: Cable users. And the attic, as you say, it's got to be stifling up there.

SIMON: Yeah, it's awful. I mean, plus, you're all sweaty and there's - you got to deal with insulation. It gets - sticks to you and it's - I just drink lots of waters, and customers are always, you know, pretty generous with their - if I run out, with their water and with their pity - just, you know, covered in sweat. It's just horrific.

CONAN: Simon, thanks very much. Be careful.

SIMON: All right. Thanks. Tell Ira Flatow I said hi.

CONAN: I will. Jessica in Vermillion, South Dakota, writes: This weekend, we discovered that our older window AC units could not keep up at all with the heat. After calling around, I learned that within a 75 mile radius of the Tri-State area - I'm in South Dakota - all the retail stores are sold out of all types of air conditioners, big or small, and some don't plan on ordering any more. I was worried about myself, my family and my cats. Now, I'm more worried about the kids and elderly in my low-income neighborhood. We haven't had any rain since the weekend. And with the heat index reaching up to 118 degrees Fahrenheit, the house doesn't cool down enough at night to get restful sleep.

Let's go next to Beverly. Beverly is with us from Roseau in Minnesota. Is that - am I pronouncing that name correctly?

BEVERLY: Yes, Roseau. I'm in the far northwest corner, right on the Canadian border. I take care of two of my grandmothers. They're both 85 years old, and one is fortunate enough to have air-conditioning, and, boy, she's not afraid to use it. But the other is little less on the income, so she's terrified to use the air conditioner. And so I've got her with cold towels around their neck, you know, mopping her face. And she hasn't figured it out yet that the water heater and the well pump causes electricity so I've been able to get her in and take cooler baths, you know, during the day to keep her cool.

But then, another problem, too, is like with myself, I'm on medication that makes you extremely sensitive to heat and sun. And if I'm outside longer than 15, 20 minutes, I could be in very dangerous trouble, and I have gotten very sick, like on the Fourth of July and that. So people that are on these medications that make them extremely, you know, to the heat, they end up to where they can't control their body heat, and it can be extremely dangerous for them. I can't even imagine being homeless or with children with this problem.

CONAN: And...

BEVERLY: So that's where we're sitting at up here.

CONAN: The woman who use air conditioner, I'm sure you told her that a big bill is not worth her life.

BEVERLY: That's what I've tried to tell her. And so at least she is taking cooler baths, all the windows open in the house. And I go by and I'm calling her, you know, four and five times a day. And she - I am just pumping the water, the Gatorade, the popsicles, all of this, anything that can make her - cool her core body temperature, so...

CONAN: Well, good luck. Stay with it. It's important.

BEVERLY: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Sounds like a big summer for the 'sickle company. Mary in California emails: During a 100-plus degree hot spell, a crew from the gas utility was replacing gas pipe at my house. For safety reasons, the workers must wear heavy long-sleeved shirts covered by a bright orange canvas vests and, of course, hard hats and work boots and gloves. The sweat was streaming off these workers, although they had plenty of water. I worried someone might get heat stroke. They seemed to survive OK, but all of us who work indoors should appreciate the comforts that we've got.

We're going to hear more of your stories about dealing with the heat bubble in just a moment. Ranchers in South Dakota say they've lost nearly 1,500 head of cattle. Plus, we'll remind you of a heartbreaking letter home from a Union soldier days before the Battle of Bull Run, 150 years ago today. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: Right now we're talking about the heat that hammers much of the country. By the end of the week, nearly half of all Americans will face high temperatures and stifling humidity. Give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

Let's go to BJ - BJ with us from Aberdeen in South Dakota.

BJ: Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking the call.

CONAN: Sure.

BJ: I just wanted to, you know, you guys (unintelligible) with the amount of cattle that had been - that died because of this heat in South Dakota. And it happens to be a real problem. I just wanted to shed a little perspective on that, is that, you know, you're dealing with people in animal livestock production. You know, you're dealing with animals that are in your - and you're in charge of taking care of them, obviously.

But when you get the amount of heat that we had here in the last week, you know, they're easily perishable. And it seems to be when you live in the state of South Dakota and you have the extreme highs and lows that we do, when the weather is the worst, you have to work the hardest just to try to keep your animals alive. And it's been a real challenge for people, and it's really - it's a real despair. But, you know, by the time you put 15 hours in the day, in this heat, trying to keep your animals alive, it gives you some new perspective on just how - on how tough the heat can be on both people and animals.

CONAN: Can you give us an idea of the kind of area you're talking about, that you have cattle scattered over?

BJ: Yup, yup. We have - the operation I have is both the cow-calf, although I do have some out in pasture. But I also have a feedlot operation where you're finishing cattle. And at this time of year, the group of cattle that I have are heavy on their weight. So they're just about ready for market, which means that when they're grouped up and you're grouped up around water, the problem that you run into is when you lose the - when you have the highest humidity, the - these animals really congregate the other - in real close quarters. They cannot shed the heat fast enough, and, of course, they cool down by panting, you know.

And so when you confine them and they get real tight next to each other, that's when the oxygen, you know, doesn't move away fast enough and they just cannot remove enough heat. So the biggest and most important thing is to provide either shade, breeze or most especially water. But they can - I imagine, just raw figures, I've probably hauled, you know, 50,000 gallons of water in the last few days. So they can really suck it down.

CONAN: And they need it, obviously. You do too. You make - make sure you keep yourself hydrated.

BJ: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. That's equally important, but I just - just to close, you know, animal agriculture sometimes takes a little bit of pounding because of some of the negative publicity that we've seen in - and rightly so at times but generally speaking, the people who are trying to produce the food in America today care as much about, you know, taking care of these animals as we do anything else. So I just want you to know that our heart's in the right spot and they're in our care. We do everything we can to keep them alive, keep them healthy, keep them comfortable.

CONAN: Well, stay with us. We're about to talk with a reporter from South Dakota Public Radio Broadcasting on this very point. But we appreciate the phone call, BJ.

BJ: Thank you very much.

CONAN: The reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting is Charles Ray, and he's with us from Rapid City. Nice to have you with us.

CHARLES RAY: Thank you, Neal. It's great to be here.

CONAN: And BJ's problem is fairly widespread.

RAY: It certainly is across the state, and it's good to hear firsthand from a producer like that, who can talk directly about what these folks are facing out here trying to raise livestock. And we know the number has been updated. I think you said 1,500 earlier. So far this morning, we've heard the number is now 1,700 cattle lost in this heat wave across the state, and that may go very well higher as more and more of those numbers are reported.

One thing interesting, the state veterinarian has come out and said that anthrax may be one cause of some of these cattle losses. The anthrax bacteria, as many people probably know, is in the soil naturally. But high heat and humidity make for just the right conditions for the anthrax to apparently come up and give it - put into contact with the cattle. And that's when also high mortality rates can occur. So the state veterinarian is, you know, letting ranchers and farmers know that, hey, watch for this potential of anthrax. Beyond that, we had a lot of flooding in South Dakota earlier this spring and still now since the summer.

CONAN: Yeah. I was going to mention. Yeah. Just a couple of months ago, the problem was too much water.

RAY: Right, right, right. And apparently, those floodwaters can also bring anthrax into places where they haven't been before. One thing good about the floodwater, as we heard earlier, I know, from people who say they couldn't get - find water anywhere, all of the stock dams and lakes around the state are full of water. So it is easier to get - at least get the cows to water. But, oftentimes, that's an issue as well.

CONAN: It's a big state. And I know there are also wildfires in the western part, near the Wyoming border.

RAY: That's right. That's right. We have the Whoop Up fire right now burning. It consumed about 10,000 acres near the Wyoming-South Dakota border. Earlier this week, there was 16 homes evacuated down there near Newcastle, Wyoming. Those folks have now been let back into their homes as the fire has burned through that area.

But it's still burning very intensely in some areas, you know? The crews were fighting not only very rough rugged terrain but triple digit temperatures with, you know, flames consuming over the tops of the pine trees 100 feet high. You know, I heard earlier the gentleman talking about the difficulty of being in an attic when it's 100 degrees outside. It's the same trying to fight a forest fire when it's 100 degrees outside. It's just a nightmare scenario.

CONAN: And you can't skimp on the equipment. You've got to wear the clothing and the boots and the hat and - it's a terrible problem. Farmers, are they doing OK?

So far, they seem to be getting through the best they can. Of course, this could have an impact on the markets down the road, so a lot of farmers are watching closely the commodities, if the southern United States is going to the kind of drought that we actually saw earlier in this past decade in South Dakota. And, of course, this can make for a volatile commodity market, whether that be cattle or corn or whatever. And so that's something I know a lot of farmers here in the state are keeping an eye on.

We know that there are cooling centers for people to go to if they need to in St. Louis or Cincinnati. Cooling centers for people in South Dakota?

RAY: We haven't seen that yet, although we have had some centers for people who can go for the flooding, of course, emergency evacuation centers. The Missouri River, of course, saw one of - some of the worst flood in the state's history almost this year and so we've had some evacuation centers. We still have people evacuated out of their homes for that flooding that started in May on the Missouri River. And I think it's feast or famine here in South Dakota. (unintelligible) time of the year and now heat this time.

CONAN: It's a place of extremes but also a place of extreme beauty especially over there in your part of the state. It's really nice.

RAY: Yeah. We're all so very fortunate for that, sure.

CONAN: Thanks very much for coming in. We appreciate your time.

Thank you.

Charles Ray, a reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting, with us from the studios of South Dakota Public Broadcasting in Rapid City. Let's see, we go next to Janelle(ph), Janelle with us from Cave Creek in Arizona.

JANELLE: Yes, I am. Hi. Neal. How are you?

CONAN: I'm good. Thanks.

JANELLE: Yes. I just - it was funny. This morning, I sent an email to my sister-in-law who lives in New York, and I was telling her, you know, that now that the East Coast can have an idea of what people in Arizona, in the Southwest desert go through five, six, seven, eight months out of the year. Although, I will say this summer seems to be a little cooler than other summers, but it's all relative.

CONAN: You don't get quite the humidity that we get, but we understand you get a lot more heat than we do.

JANELLE: Yes. We get the heat but we still got the humidity because we do get the storms too. What we do, I own a - I have a boarding facility. And so at 4:30 in the morning, I'm out doing all the horse chores and everything so that the horses can get in under the roof so they're at least in the shade. And then each stall has a fan that allows them to at least the evaporative cooling because of the sweat, you know, that they can be sustained. And then they go out - they're out all night. So their whole schedule changes around between winter and summer.

CONAN: That's a lot of physical work, to muck out stalls. So I'm sure you're happier to do that at 4:30 in the morning too.

JANELLE: Well, on Monday morning at 4:30, it was 90 degrees out.

CONAN: Wow.

JANELLE: And the only difference is, is that the sun is not quite up yet, and so you don't get - besides the heat, you don't get the intensity of the sun's rays. But it was - there are time - oh, I had heat stroke twice last summer. So - and that's always hard when you get it. It's always hard to avoid it. It's better never to get it. But you can tell because, you know, you just don't sweat sometimes. But as far as animals go, the other day, we had some - the day of the haboob that hit the national...

CONAN: Yeah. That was the big sandstorm.

JANELLE: Yeah. Well, we had another one this week, and it was really eerie. It didn't hit the national news and it just kind of - you could see it just crawl. It was like 3,000 feet high and about 25 miles wide. And it just crawled along the floor and it just - the dust just hung. And it was very odd. And no rain followed it, which usually we do get it with the rain. But we have our lakes.

We have Horseshoe Lake, lakes around here that are totally dry. So the animals come down here. So we keep saucers filled with water for the deer and the coyote and the quail and all the other animals that we get through just so they always have, you know, some water to (unintelligible) some water to survive on.

CONAN: Well, take care of yourself. Avoid heatstroke.

JANELLE: I will. Thank you.

CONAN: Thank you. Here's an email we have from John(ph) of the United States Marine Corps: I deployed in 2008 to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, where the heat index often exceeded 140 degrees Fahrenheit combined with long patrols and guard duty outdoors with little shade and stifling body armor. The weather was quite hot. Since then, I - no matter how hot it gets, I can always say I've been hotter.

And this from Michael in Minneapolis: I work two jobs in the Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport: one, as a baggage handler and the other as an aircraft refueler. The last few days have been absolutely miserable. We had a heat index of 120 degrees, but on the tarmac, it could be more like 140 plus. We've been trying to take as many breaks as possible, but we have to get the planes out on time with all the bags and passengers, so we don't get much of a chance to cool down before heading back out into the horrible heat. To make things worse, many planes run their auxiliary power units, which shoot out exhausts that's several hundred degrees. Today has been a bit cooler, but I can't wait for temps to fall back into the 70s again.

And this one is from Becky(ph) in Fowlerville in Michigan: My husband and I have been holed up in our home over this past week, working in our cool basement. We've generated a lot of trash. And as today was trash day, we decided to show our appreciation for those hardworking garbage collectors by greeting them with cold bottles of water and money for each of them to have lunch on us. They were both surprised and grateful. And we were blessed.

Well, thank you all for the emails and the text messages and the tweets and your phone calls. We're sorry we couldn't get to everybody. But everybody, please, take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough water. And if you have elderly relatives or friends, make sure you give them a call from time to time and make sure they're OK. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.