"It's not the heat. It's the humidity." There's a phrase Memphians have heard a million times. But here lately, it seems the heat and the humidity have teamed up for an especially brutal summer.
Temperatures in July were scorching but averaged only slightly above the average high for the month of 92 degrees. With temperatures peaking at 99 degrees, as seen on July 29th, the humidity and temperature have been combining for heat indexes (what it actually feels like outside) as high as 108 degrees. And temperatures are forecast to remain in the 90s for the foreseeable future.
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"We do have an increase in heat-related emergencies in the summer, specifically June and July," said Lieutenant Wayne Cook of the Memphis Fire Department. "These calls come in for a number of causes, such as overheating when exercising or working on jobs or simply from people outside doing lawn care."
The fire department received about 60 heat-related emergency calls in June, but in July that number more than doubled to around 130, according to Cook.
Shelby County reported four "probable" heat-related deaths as of July 30th. This number is up from last year's fatality total of two. None were reported in 2013. The heat also killed a dog last week, after it was left in its owner's car at Wolfchase Galleria for hours. The car's windows were cracked, but that didn't help on a day when the heat index reached 112.
"Make sure to stay cool and hydrated, especially during the middle of the day when it is the hottest," said Elizabeth Hart, public health information officer for Shelby County. "And don't ever leave pets and kids inside the car for any length of time."
On July 13th, Memphis Light, Gas, & Water (MLGW) implemented the Special Reconnect Program in which customers who are without one or more utility services can pay $250 plus a reconnect fee to reestablish service. As of August 3rd, 444 customers have taken advantage of this program.
MLGW doesn't disconnect service for certain groups of people, such as the elderly and those with physical disabilities, on days when the heat index reaches 95 degrees.
A C Wharton's office has opened cooling centers across the city when the heat index has reached 105 degrees or if there is a great need. These centers, such as the Orange Mound Community Center, typically remain open until 8 p.m., when any high temperatures will have passed. This summer, the Memphis Area Transit Authority has provided transportation to the cooling centers for those who needed it.
In addition to all of these efforts, the fire department has also been going door-to-door when there is extreme heat to check on those in need. However, Cook says the responsibility to keep everyone safe falls on all Memphians.
"Conditions can change from one minute to the next. It is important to check on those who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly and children," said Lt. Cook. "Staying indoors in an air-conditioned space for only two hours a day can make a difference."