Summer heat is soaring this week, with meteorologists recording highs of 108 degrees for some foothill towns and public health agencies releasing information on how to stay cool.
Lifeguard Benn Trent, 16, watches swimmers at the pool in Tuolumne. Amy Alonzo Rozak/Union Democrat, copyright 2012
The National Weather Service in Sacramento recorded highs of 103 degrees in both Sonora and Angels Camp on Tuesday. The temperature reached 108 degrees in Jackson and northern Calaveras County, according to the weather service.
The Mother Lode can expect temperatures to stay in the triple digits today, said National Weather Service forecaster Johnnie Powell.
He added that the weather likely won’t cool down until Saturday.
Moccasin, located in a basin near Lake Don Pedro, may see a high of 106 on Thursday and Friday.
Temperatures in Copperopolis, which tend to be among the hottest in Calaveras County, might go as high as 106 degrees on Thursday and 104 degrees on Friday.
Sonora’s record high temperature was 113 degrees on July 15, 1972. It experienced a searing heat wave about a decade earlier, with temperatures reaching 108 degrees on this date in 1961.
Powell said the definition for “heat wave” is different for California than it is for the East Coast, with the primary cause being high-pressure ridges that block the ocean breeze.
“Here we call it ‘hot temperatures over 100 for three days in a row,’” he said.
While not yet a record for Sonora, today’s high temperatures will pose challenges for the elderly and other at-risk populations, according to Tuolumne County Public Health Officer Todd Stolp.
“People who have underlying conditions … are the ones at greatest risk,” he said.
Underlying conditions that are worsened by extreme heat include lung disease, circulatory problems, and others.
Stolp reco mmended checking on elderly neighbors and family members, in addition to young children and the chronically ill.
He also advised wearing sunscreen, drinking 16 to 32 ounces of liquid every hour if exposed to heat, and consuming juice or snacks in order to replace lost electrolytes.
The Calaveras County Public Health Department also issued a heat advisory Tuesday that recommended staying indoors and avoiding caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, headaches, cramps, flushed skin and nausea. Heat stroke occurs when a person exposed to extreme heat can no longer regulate body temperature, sometimes resulting in unconsciousness or death.
Parked cars are particularly dangerous because their interiors retain heat from outside.
“(They) can literally get to cooking temperatures,” Stolp said. “In just a matter of minutes it can reach 110. Don’t even close the door and step away from your vehicle with a child or pet inside.”
Extreme temperatures cause more deaths than natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes, according to Tuolumne County’s Extreme Temperature Contingency Plan. The plan outlines steps for local agencies in the event temperatures rise or fall below certain levels.
Stolp said Mother Lode hospitals see an increase in emergency visits during the summer, the result of heat and a greater number of tourists in the area.
He noted that the exact increase is difficult to measure because heat exacerbates illnesses that already exist in a patient.
Depending on the severity and persistence of the heat, Tuolumne County may issue a heat alert or heat warning with further instructions for the public.
“We have 16 locations throughout the county that can be used as cooling centers if that will become necessary,” Stolp said.
Calaveras County Public Health Officer Dean Kelaita said that the health department would collaborate with local agencies to set up cooling centers in public buildings, since the county doesn’t own the necessary equipment.
Tuolumne County Library branches are available as relief from the weather. The library on Greenley Road in Sonora is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information on library building hours, call 533-5507.
For more information on heat warnings in Tuolumne County, call the Public Health Department’s Community Information Line at 533-6392. The health department may be contacted directly at 533-8055 for urgent needs during a heat wave.
In Calaveras County, call the Public Health Department at 754-6460.