Milder weather wilts as heat gets up steam

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Temperatures will remain in the 90s through the next several days.

Hubble Creek looks tempting on days like this.

A few dozen feet above the shady, clear water, a deeply-tanned Larry McCaleb sweats in the afternoon sun. He wears a light blue bandana on his head, jeans and a sleeveless shirt.

The iron worker bends over and ties off one metal wire strand at a time. Wrap. Twist. Clip. Wrap. Twist. Clip. Again and again he goes one wire at a time with the rest of his crew, preparing the Hubble Creek bridge for a concrete pour as part of the massive widening project of Highway 34/72 in Jackson.

After being spoiled with mild temperatures throughout June, he and dozens other construction workers at the site are enduring the first heat wave of the season. McCaleb is trying to be extra cautious. His brother, who is his co-worker, overheated on Thursday and got sick.

"It wasn't a lack of water or Gatorade," McCaleb said. "The heat just got him."

Meteorologist Christine Wielgos of the National Weather Service suggested that McCaleb and his construction cohorts are going to have to get used to it.

Temperatures will remain in the low- to mid-90s through the weekend with only slight dips in the highs -- perhaps around 90 or 91 -- early next week, the meteorologist said.

Then there is the infamous Southeast Missouri stickiness. While relative humidity is high in the mornings, as high as 90 percent, it has been dropping off into the 40 percent range in the afternoon. But relative humidity, Wielgos said, is not the best way to tell how sticky it really is.

The best way to tell, she said, is by looking at dew points. And the dew points have been in the upper 60s and lower 70s, making for summer's typical steam bath conditions.

She said heat indices, or how hot it feels to the skin, reached 101 in Cape Girardeau Thursday, about four degrees cooler than needed to declare a heat advisory. She said the heat indices will approach 100 throughout the weekend as well.

"I don't see the dew points dropping off any time soon," she said. "That's what's making it feel so icky."

The Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center offers advice for those who have to work outside.

Jane Wernsman, assistant director at the health center, recommends workers to drink a cup of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes regardless of whether they're thirsty.

She said it's important for people to recognize the early signs of heat exhaustion, which includes paleness, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, fainting, nausea or vomiting. Signs of heat stroke include high body temperatures, which would be 103 degrees or more; red, hot and dry skin; a rapid pulse; throbbing headache; confusion; or unconsciousness.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing lightweight, light-colored clothing, to rest in the shade, to drink plenty of water or sports drinks and stay in air-conditioned spaces as much as possible. The government agency recommends going to a mall or other public place, even for a few hours, to cool off the body if there is no air conditioning in the home.

But for guys like Jack Conki Sr., working out on that highway bridge in Jackson, the mall is not an option.

He said the crew works its schedule around the shade. Off to the side of the bridge a tall tree shades one half of the bridge in the afternoon. So they work on the sunny side of the bridge in the morning.

"The pace is about 25 percent slower," said Conklin, who has been working for Penzel Construction for 20 years. "You have to drink a lot more water. They tell us if we get too hot, to get into the shade or in the office. Our company is safety-conscious."

Regardless of the water breaks, the creek below sure looks good.

McCaleb said nobody's taken a dip yet.

"It's very possible though."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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