There’s a reason people in the Northern San Joaquin Valley take heat emergencies seriously. Sadly, some 45 reasons.
That’s the number of people who died across the region during the worst heat crisis in our history, a run of 100-plus days in mid-July, 2006.
The dead included a homeless man who, like many homeless, wore all his clothing so it wouldn’t get stolen. An older woman living alone was so worried about electricity bills that she refused to turn on her air conditioning. A field worker who collapsed in the sun; a man who tried to cool off by drinking too many adult beverages – an especially bad idea.
Many of the victims were in poor health to begin with. But hundreds suffered heat stroke and emergency room visits across the Central Valley spiked by an additional 16,000 in that time period.
That 2006 heat wave was the hottest five-day stretch on record across the region. In Modesto, the high temperature hit at least 110 degrees five straight days. Over 14 days, the temps were above 100 for 12 days. In Merced and south San Joaquin counties, it was a similar story. But the high temps weren’t the worst of it. Even at night, it never really cooled off. Over the five worst days, as nighttime temperatures dipped below 80 only once.
Monetary losses were staggering, estimated at $1 billion across California. Much of that came from agriculture. In our Valley, tens of thousands of farm animals died – roughly 8,000 cows across three counties; hundreds of pigs and hundreds of bee hives were lost. Chickens and turkeys were especially hard hit, with a staggering 700,000 dying in Stanislaus alone. Across the region, an estimated 1,200 tons of birds had to be disposed of. The region, from Bakersfield to Redding, was declared a disaster area.
Farmers learned, many building larger barns with better ventilation and often installing misters to keep animals cool.
So did county officials. Now there are dozens of cooling centers – all public libraries, malls, community centers, Salvation Army centers and Modesto’s Gospel Mission to name a few – and free rides to get to them. In Stanislaus, the heat hotline is 209 558-8035.
This week, will bring another prolonged stretch of triple-digit days – eight straight of 100 or more with temperatures expected to reach 111 degrees Monday through Wednesday, according to Accuweather. MyForecast puts the top end at 112 Monday and Tuesday and again Thursday with the lowest temperatures to get only to 74 until next Sunday, June 25.
This has the potential to be the most significant, and dangerous, heat wave since 2006.
What do we do? First, and foremost, stay out of the heat. Drink lots of liquids (non-alcoholic), wear loose clothing and be aware of dangers signs – dizziness, extreme thirst, lethargy. Look out for your neighbors; most of those who died in 2006 lived alone.
And don’t, under any circumstances, be afraid to turn on the AC. In 2006, former Stanislaus County public health officials said four of those who died were found in front of their fans – blowing more warm air into their faces. Fans won’t help.
Two years ago we called upon utility providers – the irrigation districts and PG&E – to offer true debt forgiveness in heat emergencies. This year we’re simply asking them to have a heart. We’ve heard that Modesto Irrigation District shuts off power of those who can’t pay their bills on Fridays. In a heat wave forcing a delinquent customer to go without power an entire weekend is almost criminal.
Heat is more deadly than tornadoes or hurricanes. No one should perish because they’re afraid to run their air conditioning.