Cows find refuge in a pond and some shade on a hot morning in Texas County. (file photo)

Hot summer temperatures are nothing new in southern Missouri and Texas County, but many years have passed since residents of the area have dealt with them quite the way they’ve had to in 2011.

While temperatures in the area have dropped lately and rain has replenished groundwater supplies and soaked tinder-dry fields and forests, the memory is still fresh of this summer’s lengthy bout with the heat.

And the marathon heat wave in the Ozarks added several new entries to the record books.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), July 2011 was the third hottest month on record in Springfield, with eight days featuring high temperatures at or above 100 degrees, and 21 with highs reaching 95 or higher. The NWS reports that the Queen City’s average high temperature for the month was a scorching 96.2 degrees, and there were 28 days when temperatures topped out at or above 90.

According to information found on the Weather Underground’s web site (www.wunderground.com), a streak of 90-plus days in Springfield began in mid-July and continued for 25 days. The service reports that before the streak began, the last time the high temperature in the city was below 90 degrees was on July 13 when the high was a frosty 89.

After that, the mercury rose to 98 or above on 15 different days, and into triple-digit territory on 10. Record highs for Springfield were recorded on four different dates in August.

Things have been a bit more temperate in West Plains, where a 17-day 90s streak began on July 18 and highs reached 98 or above “only” four times.

But like all of southern Missouri, West Plains saw its share of sweltering temperatures, highlighted by a 108-degree reading on Aug. 3 that set an all-time high for any date in the city.

When the heat maintains its rule for such a long period, people must inevitably react to its effects and tailor their lives around its seemingly endless presence.

But as Houston Rural Fire Department chief Don Gaston pointed out, when people neglect to alter their routines, trouble can sometimes follow.

“As dry as it’s been, the fire danger has been extremely high,” Gaston said. “And I just think people sometimes forget not to burn trash or do something else that ends up making a big fire. You might do something you think is all right at the time, and then the wind changes direction and it spoils that idea.”

With the conditions being the way they have been, Gaston said people can’t be too careful and should think twice before doing any form of burning on their property.

“The old saying is it’s just brush or just grass, and that’s right,” he said. “But when it gets to the point like it’s been at lately, we’ve had a couple of grass fires that could have involved peoples’ homes if it had been real windy that day.

“You might just be burning grass, but the next thing you know you might be destroying someone’s home.”

Fire danger has been even higher than it might otherwise have been because broken branches and other debris left by big storms that have passed through the area over the past couple of years have increased the amount of available fuel.

“There is so much stuff on the ground right now that once we get a fire it can easily become a major fire,” Gaston said.

Houston Rural hasn’t had any casualties resulting from fighting fires in this summer’s extreme heat, but a few firefighters from other departments were overcome at a recent blaze in Licking.

“Some of the boys had to have medical assistance from that,” Gaston said. “But the heat has really taken its toll on all of us – it makes it rough. The body just doesn’t function well under those conditions.”

Gaston said that efforts to increase fire danger awareness in his district have helped.

“We’ve tried to educate people along the way,” said, “and our membership has done well. I’m proud of them.”

Several sources provided other heat-related information to the Herald.

–Texas County Memorial Hospital emergency room director Bill Bridges said that from June 1 through Aug. 8 of this year there was a 60-percent increase in heat-related cases dealt with by ambulance crews and emergency room personnel compared to the same period in 2010.

“That’s a big number,” Bridges said, “but it’s been hot.”

Most of the patients involved displayed basic symptoms of heat stress.

“Just people getting hot and getting dehydrated,” Bridges said.

–Texas County Food Pantry executive director Sister Clare Reinert said the heat of 2011 has caused a noticeable increase in the number of people seeking assistance with their electric bills.

“It started about a month ago,” Reinert said. “We have a steady stream of them.”

–Dr. Bryan Buttress of the Texas County Veterinary Clinic said that he and his staff have been surprised by the fact that they have not seen more than the usual number of cases of heat stress this summer.

“Normally during the hot part of the summer we see heat stressed dogs come in,” Buttress said. “We actually haven’t had any yet this year. I don’t know, but maybe owners are more aware now about caring for their dogs. And maybe because it’s been to the extreme that it’s been, it’s more on their minds and they’re even more aware of it and providing shelter and more water and coolness.”

Buttress suggested a simple home remedy that can be used if a dog is suffering from mild heat stress (or hyperthermia, the technical term for raised body temperature) and is simply hot and panting.

“You can put alcohol on their foot pads,” he said. “Dogs and cats don’t sweat and that’s how they release their heat. Alcohol dries and cools their feet and that cools their body temperature down.

“You don’t want to cool them down too fast. You never want to put them in cold water or anything like that.”

Buttress said if a heat-stressed dog appears to be staggering or is down and comatose, the animal should be treated by a professional.

“But if you have one that’s just really hot and it’s still moving good and walking good, you can treat it yourself,” he said. “You can also just get them into air conditioning, and if you use alcohol you can put it in a spray bottle and mist their feet, or you can use cotton balls.”

–Texas County Library director Audrey Barnhart said there was a noticeable increase in traffic at the Houston location during the heat wave.

“We definitely had more people camping out in the library,” Barnhart said.

The library’s new climate control system (obtained through a grant last fall) was taxed to its limit when temperatures reached the high 90s and 100s.

“The air conditioner just could not pull the heat down,” Barnhart said. “The library was pretty well full of people, and we could only get the temperature down to about 80. But it was a lot cooler in here even at 80 than it was outside at 110 or whatever it was.”

Barnhart said that when oppressive heat sets in, the library serves a valuable purpose as a place of refuge.

“When it gets extremely hot, we get people in who maybe don’t have air conditioning at home,” she said. “They come, sit in our chairs and read books – and that’s wonderful. We’re glad they can.”

–Houston Senior Center director Bernadine Hohlt said her facility didn’t see an increase in traffic, but did see and increase in one aspect of its operation.

“I would like to have said that we had an increase in visitors and everybody came here to enjoy the air conditioning and have a good time, but that wasn’t the case,” Hohlt said. “We actually had less traffic. I think it was just so hot that people just stayed in if they had air conditioning.

“But we did see an increase in our home delivered meals. People who sometimes come down here and sometimes don’t, well, I guess it was just too hot and they would call and ask if we could deliver a meal to their house.”

–Ed Bluebaum, owner of OK Tire Store in Houston, said his mechanics haven’t really worked on an unusual number of heat-related problems, but the extended heat wave significantly increased business in one area.

“We’ve done a heck of a lot of air conditioning jobs,” Bluebaum said. “Air conditioning jobs have probably increased 300-percent, and that is related to weather. People who I wouldn’t think would fix their air conditioners or fans are finding the money to do it.

“Of course, that will fall off at the first frost. We’ll be flushing radiators then.”

There’s no getting around the fact that working on cars and trucks when the temperature is 100 degrees does not make for a comfortable work day.

“I gets so darn hot you can hardly think,” Bluebaum said. “And you get out of reach the fan in the shop and sweat just starts pouring off of you.”

–Houston Parks and Recreation director Jim Root said the city pool didn’t necessarily experience an increase in attendance during the big heat wave, perhaps because it was just plain too hot.

“It’s kind of hard to say,” Root said, “but on some of the days when you might think there would be a lot of people there, there wasn’t because it was so hot. I think the extreme heat was keeping people from getting out.

“And when the ones who do come don’t stay as long. They get some refreshment from the water, but after a while it’s just too hot.”

Root is also co-owner of Rootin’ Tootin’ Alpacas along his wife Connie. He said their animals get along in the heat as well as can be expected considering their native habitat would be high in the Andes Mountains of South America.

The Roots help their alpacas weather the weather by wetting down their legs and undersides.

“This is the most extreme time for them – they’re a cold weather animal,” Root said. “But Connie has been taking a water hose to them, generally in the early afternoon. Not all of them like it, but most of them do.”

Monitoring pregnant females is important when the mercury rises high.

“We’re not sure, but it could throw them into early labor,” Root said, “so we’re keeping an eye on them. We put fans on them to help them cope with heat, too, but as hot as it’s been, you’re almost just blowing hot air over them.

“For me, it seemed like there were times when it was even kind of hard to breathe. It has been pretty extreme.”

–A landlord with several rental properties in the community said tenants haven’t had any problems with air conditioning units failing, but they’re not looking forward to paying for constantly having to run them.

“A lot of them don’t want to see their bills,” she said.

Date – temp. (record, year)

West Plains

July 17 – 88º (103, 1980)

July 18 – 91º (101, 1964)

July 19 – 93º (101, 1980)

July 20 – 96º (101, 1964)

July 21 – 97º (100, 1964)

July 22 – 96º (99, 2001)

July 23 – 98º (100, 2001)

July 24 – 94º (99, 1999)

July 25 – 93º (104, 1986)

July 26 Р94¼ (102, 1952)

July 27 – 96º (101, 1952)

July 28 – 96º (103, 1986)

July 29 – 96º (104, 1999)

July 30 – 97º (105, 1986)

July 31 – 94º (102, 1953)

Aug. 1 – 99º (100, 1953)

Aug. 2 – 104º (record)

Aug. 3 – 108º (record for any date)

Aug. 4 – 88º (104, 1964)

Springfield

July 13 – 89º (108, 1954)

July 14 – 92º (113, 1954)

July 15 – 94º (106, 1936)

July 16 – 95º (104, 1980)

July 17 – 94º (107, 1954)

July 18 – 95º (108, 1954)

July 19 – 98º (103, 1954)

July 20 – 98º (103, 2006)

July 21 – 100º (102, 1974)

July 22 – 99º (104, 1901)

July 23 – 99º (106, 1901)

July 24 – 98º (106, 1934)

July 25 – 91º (102, 1986)

July 26 – 97º (101, 1952)

July 27 – 101º (102, 1986)

July 28 – 101º (102, 1986)

July 29 – 100º (106, 1986)

July 30 – 96º (108, 1986)

July 31 – 101º (104, 1980)

Aug. 1 – 105º (record)

Aug. 2 – 108º (record)

Aug. 3 – 105º (record)

Aug. 4 – 94º (102, 1964)

Aug. 5 – 96º – (101, 1982)

Aug. 6 – 100º (102, 1956)

Aug. 7 – 102º (record)

Aug. 8 – 77º (102, 1946)

from data posted on www.wunderground.com

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