Cooling stations lure hot, surly
2 hospitals report increase in heat-related illnesses
CAPITAL REGION The Schenectady County Public Library’s main branch doesn’t open until 9 a.m.
But by 8:15 a.m. on Friday, a small group had gathered outside. And when the doors were unlocked, they streamed in, seeking refuge from the heat, according to Karen Bradley, director of the Schenectady County Public Library system.
“I’ve definitely seen more people coming in because of the air conditioning,” Bradley said. “Some of them are regulars. Some of them are new people. Some of them are families. At the Mont Pleasant branch, I saw a mom, a dad, a baby in a carriage and a couple of toddlers hanging out, doing puzzles and playing with toys.”
The central library on Clinton Street and the library system’s nine branches are designated cooling stations — places Schenectady County residents are invited to visit to cool off during the heat wave, which began Sunday.
Bradley said the heat is starting to wear on people.
“The people who are coming in are just a little more irritable than usual,” she said.
On Friday, the Capital Region remained in the grip of an oppressive heat wave, with the temperature topping out at 96 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Albany. But relief is in sight: A cold front is expected to move into the region this afternoon, dropping temperatures to the low 80s by Sunday. Ian Lee, a meteorologist with the NWS, said the transition to cooler weather will likely be accompanied by storms and that these storms could be severe. Strong winds and hail are a possibility, he said.
During the heat wave, New York state has experienced a record-breaking demand for electricity.
Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Friday, the New York Independent System Operator recorded an hourly average peak load of more than 33,955 megawatts, surpassing the previous demand record of 33,939 megawatts set on Aug. 2, 2006. “It is possible that demand could continue to rise and the record peak load could change later today,” the agency said on Friday.
Also reporting record-breaking demand was National Grid.
On Wednesday, the utility company saw electricity usage in upstate New York soar to 6,911 megawatts, surpassing the previous peak of 6,909 megawatts on July 21, 2011.
Patrick Stella, a spokesman for National Grid, said the power system was holding up well, although there had been some reports of scattered power outages, including an outage in Scotia earlier this week that lasted about an hour and might have been heat-related.
Stella said that National Grid is prepared for the possibility of severe weather today. “Heat spells are tough, and when they break, they usually bring storms,” he said. “We will have extra crews on hand.”
Two local hospitals reported increases in heat-related ailments at their emergency rooms this week.
At Albany Medical Center, staff reported a spike in heat-related illnesses such as dehydration, as well as a number of patients who were faint or passing out as a result of the heat. “This has typically been seen in the older population, but it’s happening across all age groups,” hospital spokeswoman Sue Ford said in an email. “Fortunately, we have not seen any cases of heat stroke, which is one of the more serious heat-related illnesses.”
Timothy Brooks, medical director at the emergency department at Saratoga Hospital, said that during the heat wave his ER has been seeing a couple of people a day with heat-related illnesses. “These are primarily workers who have to continue to function outside in the heat as part of their job and get behind on fluids,” he said in an email.
Brooks said the ER is also seeing more patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure “who do not have air conditioning” and “decompensate” as a result of the stress brought on by the extreme heat and humidity.
Matt Van Pelt, a spokesman for Ellis Medicine, said Ellis’ ER wasn’t seeing a jump in patients due to the heat.
Due to the high demand, National Grid has requested that customers try to reduce all unnecessary electricity usage during daytime hours.
Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said the town of Glenville is making an effort to cut back on electricity consumption during peak times.
Two years ago, the town enrolled in National Grid’s Demand Response program. Participants in this program agree to lower their energy use during peak conditions, and receive money from the utility company in return.
Koetzle said National Grid asked Glenville to take its water plant off the electrical grid for six hours on both Thursday and Friday and that he expected a similar request to be made for today. In return, the town will likely receive about $7,500.
“It’s a green program,” Koetzle said. “It reduces our costs, and we get paid.”
Last summer, the town wasn’t asked to go off the grid at all, Koetzle said.
Especially vulnerable during heat waves are the elderly, babies and people with serious illnesses and chronic diseases.
Marsha Mortimore, a community activist in Schenectady, urged people to reach out to elderly friends and relatives, as well as the sick, to see how they were faring during the heat wave.
“We’ve got to stay in contact,” she said. “We need to think about things we can do to help.”
Vicki Hillis, who coordinates the town of Glenville’s senior center, said it had been a fairly quiet week.
“People have been coming to exercise because we do have air conditioning,” Hillis said. But the heat wave wasn’t keeping the seniors indoors, she said. “I have to give them credit — they were out playing bocce yesterday,” she said.
A heat wave is at least three days of temperatures that are at least 90 degrees or above. On Friday, the Capital Region’s heat wave had entered its sixth day. Lee said heat waves of this length are uncommon, but not unprecedented. The last time the area experienced a six-day heat wave was 2002, between Aug. 11 and 16.
Energy-saving tips offered by National Grid include:
• Optimize air conditioning systems by setting the thermostat on the air conditioner as high as comfort will permit. According to National Grid, air conditioners at lower settings are costlier to operate.
• Use a programmable thermostat.
• Change the air conditioner filter.
• Unplug electronics.
• Turn off ceiling fans and close the drapes.
• Use electric fans.