Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 31
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
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Weather Forecast

With “Cooling Sites” and Extended Swims, Princetonians Respond to the Hot Weather

Ellen Gilbert

Due to a heat wave that peaked at 104 on July 22 and overall persistent warmth, July ranked as the ninth warmest across New Jersey since records began in 1895,” according to the Office of the N.J. State Climatologist. “The 72.2 average temperature was 2.8 above the 1971-2000 mean. Remarkably, nine of the past sixteen months have ranked in the top ten for warmth. Only December 2010 and January 2011 had below-average temperatures during this period.”

While the year-long trend may be news to some people, recent record-breaking temperatures had everyone scrambling for anywhere that was air conditioned or wet. With temperatures still hovering in the high 80’s and 90’s, it’s not over yet.

“The Princeton Senior Resource Center (PSRC) is a ‘cooling site’ at both locations” (the Suzanne Patterson building and Spruce Circle facility), said PSRC Executive Director Susan Hoskins. “This means that people are welcome to come in to cool off any time. We don’t change the program much as there are things going on every day that can accommodate more people on short notice.”  

Director Leslie Burger similarly described the Princeton Public Library as “a cooling place,” where people — especially those without air conditioning — can find a welcome respite from the heat.”

On the proactive side, PSRC social workers “check on the people we work with to make sure they can manage in the heat; that air conditioners work, etc.,” said Ms. Hoskins. “Another thing we check on is what people would do in a power outage. This can have serious consequences for a person in a power wheel chair.”

Since seniors tend to stay inside during extreme weather conditions, PSRC encourages them to stock up on food and medications before the heat hits.  

While 100 degree days would seem to be the optimum time for jumping into a swimming pool, Recreation Department Executive Director Ben Stentz reported that, after three or four days of super-high temperatures,“ the pool numbers aren’t necessarily that great.” Possible reasons include the fact that the pool water, at around 90, simply isn’t refreshing any more, or that people just don’t go out much on those days.

One of the Recreation Department’s biggest challenges, said Mr. Stentz, is the very limited amount of indoor air conditioned space available to campers. “We’re always scrambling to get the kids indoors.” Access to neighboring Community Park School rooms is limited, and those that are available aren’t always air conditioned. “It’s a double-edged sword,” said Mr. Stentz. “Is it better to be hot outdoors or indoors?”

“We manage on a day-to-day basis, rotating kids through the cooler spaces and giving them extended pool time until 1:45 or 2 p.m.” Extra time in the pool is another mixed blessing, since it means longer exposure to the sun. “We wish we had more spaces to take them to,” concluded Mr. Stentz.

Although “we love when it’s a bit cooler so the kids can enjoy their lunch break outdoors,” Executive Director Jeff Nathanson reported that summer art campers are kept indoors “where it’s air conditioned on days the thermometer heads upwards of 100 degrees.”

Borough Director of Emergency Services Mark Freda reported that the Princeton Fire Department “usually carries drinking water on most of the apparatus to help out with hot days.”  On particularly hot and humid days, he added, the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad provides rehabilitation services to department volunteers who are involved “an incident of any duration. We also cycle our members frequently between actual work and the rehab area due to all the heavy gear they wear, and how strenuous much of the work we do is,” noted Mr. Freda.

In the case of a confirmed fire, Mr. Freda reported, “we would most likely call in mutual aid fire companies quickly to help ensure there are plenty of firefighters on scene to cycle through to reduce the chances that anyone gets affected by the high heat conditions.”

Everything is relative, though, and Township Engineer Bob Kiser was happy to report that “those involved in the ongoing night time (9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) reconstruction of Cherry Valley Road between Billie Ellis Lane and Route 206 became much less concerned with any loss of sleep and appreciated not having to work in the hot sun.”

At the local level, Health Officer David Henry reported that his department “experienced no effects from the heat wave nor did we have any heat related calls.” At the Federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and Center for Disease Control are among the agencies and offices that provide detailed online advice for coping with hot weather.

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