Records whither in hot weather
JANESVILLE People with broken air conditioners are deciding now is the time for a fix.
Last year, Steve Hovland, owner of Hovland's Heating and Air Conditioning in Janesville, noticed people not getting air conditioners fixed because of the economy.
Thursday's record-breaking heat pushed a couple of those people to call Hovland for repairs.
"We're getting flooded with calls," Hovland said during a quick interview between service calls. "We're doing the best we can do to keep up."
Meteorologists predict today will be the last of the record-breaking, dangerous temperatures. An excessive heat warning remains in effect until 10 p.m. today.
By the numbers
Thursday's unofficial high of 104 degrees at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville breaks the record of 99 degrees set on July 5, 1939. Official weather readings for Janesville taken daily at the wastewater treatment plant are not available until the next day.
Wednesday's official high of 101 broke the record of 99 set on the same day in 1921. Wednesday was the first time Janesville hit triple digits since a high of 101 on July 13, 1995, according to Gazette weather records.
The average high for this time of year is about 83 degrees.
The National Weather Service predicts a high of 103 today, followed by a drop to 93 Saturday with a slight chance of thunderstorms and 86 on Sunday.
Even if today hits triple digits, the three consecutive days of 100-plus heat doesn't come close to a record for Janesville, according to Gazette weather records. In July 1936, the city had 10 consecutive days of temps ranging from 100 to 110 degrees.
Attendance at Janesville city pools has been up 40 percent this summer over last year, when summer got off to a cool start, said Shelley Slapak, acting city recreation director.
"(We've had) some really busy days out there, and for every pool," she said.
Season pass sales are up almost 50 percent over last year.
Nearly 400 people sought relief at Rockport Pool on the Fourth of July, compared to average daily attendance of 200 to 300, she said. The city has had five days this summer when attendance hit 600.
Extra lifeguards are scheduled when staff members know it's going to be hotter, she said.
The heat has taken a toll on the city's other programs, she said. Adult softball games at Dawson Field were canceled Thursday night.
Staff and volunteers at Rotary Botanical Gardens are "barely keeping up" with watering the grounds, horticulture director Mark Dwyer said. They're fortunate that 60 percent of the gardens have computerized, in-ground irrigation that can be kept running all night and as needed, he said.
But the five staff members working Thursday were busy hand watering and moving sprinklers for the other 40 percent, he said.
"We're at the point, now, where there's some critical watering needs in trees and shrubs," he said. "We're starting to water things we've never had to water before."
Because staff and volunteers are focused on water duty, other tasks such as weeding and planting are put off, he said. And not only does the heat take a toll on the plants, the gardens are faced with the double whammy of decreased attendance because people don't want to walk around in triple-digit heat, he said.
"Things are growing, looking pretty good," he said. "We just don't have the people here to see it."
The area is getting close to the point where grass can actually die, rather than just being dormant, one expert says.
"Kentucky bluegrass is the most drought tolerant grass species (and the most common in Wisconsin) and can probably take another few weeks with high temps and no rain," UW-Madison assistant professor and UW-Extension specialist Doug Soldat wrote in an email. "Other grasses like perennial ryegrass and fine fescue, which are often mixed in the lawn with Kentucky bluegrass, may already be close to the point where they die and will leave bare patches."
A number of factors such as soil and shade affect whether grass will die.
The best way to ensure a lawn survives is to water one-quarter to one-half inch per month, he wrote.
The small amount is not enough to break the dormancy stage but will keep alive the growing point of the grass at or just below the surface.
"If you apply about 1 inch per week, dormancy will break and new leaves will begin to grow, which may or may not be desirable depending on the situation," he wrote.
Reseeding this fall will be necessary for dead patches greater than 1 foot in diameter, he wrote. The best time to re-seed is between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15.
Power to the people
Spokespeople for Alliant Energy and Rock Energy Cooperative say power plants are running well and plenty of power is available.
"Everything's going great," Rock Energy spokeswoman Barb Uebelacker said. "All our equipment is operating properly."
"We've experienced very few, if any, problems on our electric system due to the heat, and we have access to more than enough power to supply our customers," Alliant Energy spokesman Scott Reigstad said in an email.
Thursday's forecast peak usage of 2,601 megawatts was the highest usage Alliant expected through the recent heat wave, he said, which compares to July 2011's peak usage of 2,487 megawatts. Thursday's peak was not expected to break Alliant's Wisconsin record of 2,819 megawatts used July 17, 2006, he said.
"The main reason is that we've lost industrial load over the last few years due to the recession," Reigstad wrote. "For example, several large customers, like GM, are no longer on our system and we continue to have less demand due to the economy."
Rock Energy Cooperative was requesting members to try limiting electricity use from 1 to 7 p.m. weekdays during the heat wave. The co-op suggested using fans instead of air conditioning and delaying laundry and use of hot water or electric stoves.
"It's purely an economic concern of ours," Uebelacker said.
Reducing use during peak times keeps Rock Energy's charges down from its wholesale supplier, ultimately affecting members' bills, she said.
Cool summer school
With extreme heat forecast for today, the Janesville School District's summer school staff will be doing the following:
-- Holding classes, where possible, in air-conditioned areas of the school
-- Continuing swim classes as scheduled
-- Canceling outside recess
-- Moving outside physical education classes indoors
-- Encouraging parents to send a filled water bottle to school with their child
Students who will be affected most by the heat include those with mobility challenges, asthma, diabetes or with health conditions that may affect their ability to perspire. It is up to the parent or guardian to decide to send their child to summer school.
Questions should be directed to the district's health services office at (608) 743-5097.
Cooling centers around Rock County have been providing a place for residents to seek relief from the heat. Maj. Bob Fay of The Salvation Army in Janesville reported eight to 10 new people have joined the organization's regular lunch program to have a cool place inside.
"It hasn't been overwhelming, but there has been a number of people for the last several days," he said.
Thursday and today the Salvation Army planned to show a movie in the gymnasium during the afternoon for its youth activities group and anyone else who wanted a break from the heat, he said.