Beginning last Friday, the county weather station at Cleveland recorded high temperatures of 102, 104, 104, and 103 for Friday through Monday, with triple digit temperatures expected for one or two more days, followed by a forecast cool-down into the mid- 90s for the rest of this week.
Meanwhile, it got dryer and dryer as June wound down. The first half of the month saw a healthy 4.17 inches of rainfall, recorded by the weather station, but then it stopped as if cut off at a spigot, with no rainfall for the last 15 days of June and only a trace .01 inch on July 2. That’s 17 days without rain at the weather station, and some places were dryer that that.
Besides serious consequences for agriculture, the summer’s first heat wave – coupled with the beginnings of drought – raise concerns about adequacy of the water supply and cooling capability for some citizens, including the elderly and those without air conditioning. Not to mention the threat of fire.
In an effort to evaluate those concerns, The Blount Countian spot-checked six water authorities along with agencies that might be involved with responding to citizen needs related to dangerous heat, and the Alabama Forestry Commission.
Out of six of the county’s 10 water authorities, five reported no serious concerns with their water supply at this time. That outlook characterized Oneonta Utilities, Blountsville Utilities, and Blount County Water Authority. All three expressed cautious confidence with their system’s ability to meet foreseeable customer needs.
Spokesmen for two water authorities – Nectar and Cleveland – while expressing little concern over the immediate situation, noted that a prolonged period of heat and drought could change their outlook, particularly since demand significantly increases during such times, while water supply may at best remain constant or even lessen. Both those systems rely on wells whose levels may decline during periods of serious drought. Both have provisions with other water suppliers to supplement their needs if necessary.
Snead’s Whited: ‘Tell everybody to conserve’
Of the water authorities polled, only Jeff Whited of Snead Utilities sounded an urgent note of caution. “We’re pumping as hard as we can pump, and our usage is still going up,” he said – from 8 million gallons in May to 11 million in June, with the worst of the summer to come.
“Plus, we’ve had more main breaks lately as conditions have gotten hotter and dryer and affected the ground by making it contract. People at higher elevations may be running out of water during the day when that happens,” he said. He said the system has plans to add an extra tank and increased pumping capacity, but it won’t come on line until next spring.
Meantime, he asks to “tell everyone to conserve water as much as possible,” adding that official notification to customers to institute water conservation measures hasn’t been made yet, but is needed immediately.
The Blount Countian checked with five agencies that could conceivably be involved with meeting needs for heat abatement, such as daytime cooling centers for at-risk groups. We contacted the American Red Cross, the Blount County Emergency Management Agency, Hope House, the Oneonta and Snead Senior Citizens Centers, and Oneonta City Hall to inquire if any had handled requests for or made plans to respond to the summer’s first heat wave.
With the exception of Hope House, none had received requests or been notified of any need for cooling stations or other relief efforts. Director Bud Jones of Hope House said that his agency had provided about a dozen electric fans to seniors and others who had requested them, and had a few remaining left to meet further requests, but so far, no further relief has been requested.
Prompted by dry weather conditions, low humidity, and gusty winds, the Alabama Forestry Commission released an advisory last week urging “extreme caution” when doing any kind of outdoor burning. Noting that 57 fires burning a total of 684 acres across the state had been reported in the preceding week, the advisory urged these precautions when doing any outdoor burning:
•don’t burn until it rains.
•don’t burn if it’s windy.
•call and get a burn permit from the commission if you’re burning more than one-quarter acre. The number is 1-800-242-2504.
•clear a circle 25 feet wide down to bare soil around the area to be burned
•have enough tools, equipment, manpower and water available to control your fire.
•stay with the fire until it’s completely out.
“We’re not under a ‘no-burn’ order yet, said Terry Helms of the county Forestry Commission office last Friday, “but it could come any minute now. At the moment, we’re just saying be extremely cautious.”