Heat will hang on for days|[08/14/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Forecasters have backed away from predicted highs later this week – but not by much.

A reading as high as 104 degrees had been foreseen for Wednesday as a stagnant air mass lingered in the region for a second week. That’s been dropped to 102 degrees.

Otherwise, a reading of 101 degrees recorded Monday, when a 100-degree reading was predicted, set a record as the hottest for the date in at least 120 years.

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Double-digit highs of 98 are expected Thursday and Friday, with heat indexes at 102 to 105.

The heat index is a combination of the temperature and relative humidity, which is based on moisture. Lower temperatures don’t necessarily mean cooler conditions outside, said senior meteorologist Mike Edmonston of the National Weather Service office in Jackson.

&#8220Even though the temperature may roll out and drop a degree or two lower, the moisture is up and the higher the relative humidity is,” he said.

The hot spell will last at least another week, he said. Hot weather in Mississippi in August is not news, but readings are ranging about 10 degrees above average. &#8220We’re looking at above normal temperatures through Sunday,” Edmonston said. &#8220Normal for Vicksburg is between 92 and 93 degrees. It could remain in the mid-90s through next Tuesday.”

Beating the heat is the name of the game for two butchers at a local supermarket. Hewitt Mitchell and Harold Pickett, employees at County Market on Clay Street, enjoy spending the bulk of their day in the 30-degree coolers where they cut and prepare meat for 10 hours each day.

&#8220I enjoy working back here – especially this time of year,” said Mitchell, who sports short sleeves in the summer.

Pickett has been working in the same department for 31 years and said he &#8220can’t beat” his kind of work. He wears extra clothing while in the cooler, but, as soon as he steps out, layers have to be stripped.

&#8220You itch – hitting that heat,” he said. &#8220But, you do better to stay outside a while. You wear more clothes back here, but you have to take them off once you get outside.”

William Douglas, who is charged with filling coolers of frozen food and dairy products, said he loves his job. He deals with temperatures of 10 degrees and wears a long, white coat to protect him from the chill. His time outside after work is limited because of the extreme temperatures.

&#8220When you hit the heat – you can’t stay out there too long – not after being in the cool box,” he said.

Avoiding the heat is a countywide affair. Officials at the 9,200-student Vicksburg Warren School District have been taking precautions since Friday, when the mercury reached 100 degrees. Superintendent Dr. James Price has banned outdoor activities districtwide for Wednesday, when the National Weather Service expects a heat index of 109.

Anna Grace Nation, 11, is a student at Bowmar Elementary School, and she said the worst thing about the record temperatures is riding the school bus.

&#8220The afternoon is horrible. I stick to my seat,” she said. &#8220It’s not so bad in the morning.”

Principal Barbara Burns said outdoor recess for the school has been canceled until the weather is more bearable.

For student Karley Whittington, 7, outdoor activities at home are even limited. She said, after school, she usually plays inside with her puppy. In the evening, when temperatures cool, she rides her bike outside. Karley said it’s hotter outside than she can remember.

&#8220It feels really, really hot,” she said.

Burns said the school has had a few problems with air conditioners breaking, but relief comes quickly. Some parents have brought in fans to help cool rooms that seem hotter in the afternoon. In some cases, Burns moved classes to cooler areas.

&#8220We’re just adjusting and trying to make the best of it,” she said.

Bowmar, the recipient of a Healthy School grant last year, has water coolers in some classrooms that help students beat the heat. Third-graders in Denise Poe’s class bring bottles to fill with the cool water every morning.

&#8220It keeps them hydrated,” she said.

Eight-year-old Emme Robbins brings a large bottle of cold water in the morning and drinks it throughout the day.

&#8220I need to bring it because if I go outside when it’s hot, I need some water,” she said.

Burns said the extreme heat has shown &#8220everybody’s true colors.” Positive attitudes from parents and teachers have made things run more smoothly, she said.

Price has limited outdoor practices for football teams and school bands this week. Vicksburg Catholic School and Porters Chapel Academy are also taking extra precautions until temperatures cool.