Island Melts Beneath Heat Wave as Temperatures Push Near 100

By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL

Temperatures on the Vineyard climbed into the mid-nineties this week, as the Island joined the rest of the Northeast in staggering under an oppressive three-day heat wave that was forecast to break last night. A high temperature of 96 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded Wednesday at the National Weather Service Cooperative Station in Edgartown.

Even with the ocean breeze to offer some relief, the Vineyard was only a few degrees cooler than places such as Boston, New York city and Washington, D.C., all of which experienced hazardous hot weather through the week. But for the most part Islanders handled the unusual heat without a problem. The pace of life slowed and businesses experienced a few kinks in the works, but the power stayed on and residents stayed well, kept cool by air-conditioning or that more natural method of refreshment: a swim in the ocean.

Dr. Timothy Tsai, director of emergency services at the Martha's Vineyard Community Hospital, said emergency room staff on Wednesday treated a relatively small number of patients, among them landscapers and athletes, for heat-related maladies.

"We have really had a modest increase in cases related to the weather. Most of the Island population has been very smart about dealing with this heat," he said.

"Two or three people had heat related fainting," confirmed Carol Bardwell, chief nurse executive at the hospital. "We rehydrated them and they were treated and released."

The staff at the Island councils on aging placed phone calls to elderly residents to see how they were faring; staff at the Tisbury Council on Aging also checked with the managers of Hillside Village and Havenside, which house many seniors. The staff also opened the air-conditioned center for visitors well into the evening on Wednesday.

Center director Joyce Stiles-Tucker said a half-dozen people visited the center to escape the heat. "We had a black and white movie showing, plus refreshments. The Red Cross came over and brought water," Ms. Stiles-Tucker said.

"Our biggest concern is those seniors who are vulnerable to heat, especially those with respiratory heart problems. You have to be concerned that people don't get overcome by the heat, whether inside or outside," she said.

Laurie Schreiber, director of the Edgartown Council on Aging, said: "We had a staff meeting on Tuesday and we found people in the community are tuned into the news media and a lot of information is being given on heat exposure." She and the staff agreed that the best act they could perform during this period is to keep in touch with local seniors. "I am finding people would rather sit at home and not move, than come down to the senior center. It is too hard to get up and get dressed and come down. We just made sure that they all had fans and food."

Meals on Wheels drivers checked in on the homes they visited. "We called 50 to 60 people to see if they were okay and we delivered one fan," Ms. Schreiber said.

The temperatures did however affect many Island businesses.

At Edgartown Seafood, the Frialator for cooking seafood in hot grease was shut off for the day on Tuesday to keep the staff from overheating. Others shifted their hours altogether. Vineyard Haven resident John Thayer, for example, who runs a cabinet and woodworking shop at Maciel Marine, started work at 6:30 a.m. "We started an hour earlier and ended an hour earlier. By 3 p.m. there are no brain cells working," Mr. Thayer said.

At Tea Lane Nursery the rules were relaxed as well. Landscapers starting work between 7:30 and 8 a.m. were allowed to quit for the day if they felt too uncomfortable. "We are coping. Everyone is being told to be aware of the heat and at their discretion they can stop," said Matt Tobin, who runs the nursery and landscaping business. "Yesterday most of them were in by noon or 1 p.m."

The regional office of the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued unhealthy air warnings through the week for most of the region which includes Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts, including the Cape and Islands.

"As this hot summer weather continues, we predict that southern New England will continue to experience unhealthy air quality," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England regional office.

Bill Simpson, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Taunton, said the culprit has been a high pressure ridge over New England. "It is ushering in the heat that was over the Midwest," he said.

That pattern was predicted to change last night when a cold front from Canada was expected to arrive. The weather for the next five days should be moderate. Fair seasonable temperatures should rule for the days ahead.

Mr. Simpson said a 96-degree temperature on the Vineyard is rare. In the summer of 2002 there were five days in July and three days in August when the thermometer hit 90 or higher. The record high in 2002 was 95 and for most of the summer the Vineyard was in an extreme drought-like condition.

The highest temperature on record through the cooperative station was 99 degrees, recorded in August in 1948. The cooperative station was begun in 1946 by Henry Beetle Hough and his wife, Elizabeth Bowie Hough.

"This weather is nothing unusual for us. This happens every five or ten years," Mr. Tobin said. "I can remember that we tend to have seven years of dry weather and then one or two years of wet weather and then we are back to dry weather."

Fortunately there has been rain this year. July was a typical month for rainfall.

Total rainfall for July was 2.76 inches, only about .13 inches above normal. It was the first month of the summer season when there was no significant flooding. Compare that to June's soaking, a record wet month. Total rainfall for June was 10.93 inches, or 8.28 inches above normal. May was also wet with 7.36 inches of rain.

If there was a fault, July came with more than its share of overcast skies. There were 13 rain-producing days last month, plenty of fog and a more frequent southeasterly breeze instead of the preferred, drier-prevailing southwest wind. All told, there were 13 wet days in July, far more than July of 2005 which was considered a tourism-friendly month with nine days of precipitation and below-average rainfall.

Last month offered some fickle weather, too. There was a wind storm on the night of July 12 that came in with a thunderstorm. Vineyard Haven got heavy rains, while Edgartown received only drizzle.

Tropical storm Beryl passed far offshore in the early morning hours of Friday, July 21. The barometric pressure dropped and there was rain, but by 3 a.m. the storm was on its way out.

The high mark for July temperatures came Saturday when the thermometer at the National Weather Service cooperative station hit 88 degrees. There were 19 days last month when the temperature rose to 80 degrees or above. The average high temperature for July was 80.5 degrees. The coolest day was 72 degrees.

Last year, the highest temperature recorded was 92 degrees - but overall July 2005 was cooler, with an average high of 79.1 degrees.

As for the month ahead, the Old Farmer's Almanac predicts the following summer forecast for this region: "The summer season will be hotter and wetter than normal, although there will not be a prolonged heat wave. The hottest period will be in mid-July and early and late August."