published Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Chattanooga temperatures setting record highs

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    Alexandria Pride, Preslie Mullins and Caitlin Nowakowski, from left, laugh as water dumps on them Tuesday at the Splash and Play park at Warner Park. Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press
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Officially, summer is three weeks away.

But air conditioners already are blasting at full force in homes and businesses across the Tennessee Valley as the region copes with sweltering, record-breaking temperatures more appropriate for midsummer.

Chattanooga endured a high of 96 degrees Tuesday — cracking the 95-degree record from 1951, according to the National Weather Service.

The normal high for this time of year is in the low 80s, said WRCB-TV chief meteorologist Paul Barys.

“We’re usually not expecting these temperatures till late June and July. It’s likely caught quite a few people off guard,” Barys said.

The Salvation Army is scrambling to find fans for its “Beat the Heat” fan donation program, which usually doesn’t kick off till mid-June.

“We’ve already received between 50 and 100 requests for fans just in the last two weeks,” said Kimberly George, director of marketing and development for the Chattanooga area Salvation Army. “We’re needing fan donations right away.”

There is slim chance for relief from the heat in the week ahead, with high temperatures expected to persist in the mid- to upper 90s until Tuesday — at the earliest.

And there’s no rain in sight, though higher elevations east of the city could see some moisture, Barys said.

The heat has set in because of a bubble of high pressure across the Southeast, extending to the upper part of the atmosphere, Barys explained. The ridge of pressure is keeping air still and stagnant, creating an oven-like environment.

Drought conditions across Georgia worsened in May, with the southern half of the state experiencing the worst effects, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Pockets of South Georgia currently are classified as being in “extreme drought,” but conditions are also dry to the north, according to the AP. The drought has made spring planting difficult for farmers and increases the risk of wildfires.

Tennessee is not in any kind of drought situation yet, according to the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn.

But plant nurseries are having to adapt quickly to the climbing temperatures. The Barn Nursery in Chattanooga has been forced to ramp up its watering over the last two weeks, said Craig Walker, who works in the perennial department.

“Something’s being handwatered all day long, and we irrigate in the evening,” he said. “We have huge fans all over the nursery, vents that let the heat out of the tops of the greenhouses. We’re moving a lot of plants off concrete and onto the gravel where it’s cooler.”

Despite the heat, Walker said business is good, with heavy Memorial Day weekend sales and an influx of people buying plants and trees to replace those lost in the storms at the end of April.

Barys advised that gardeners should do their watering in the morning, before the sun gets high and while humidity is somewhat higher, both of which reduce evaporation.

Still, the early hot spell is not necessarily the predecessor to a stifling summer, Barys noted.

“You never know. We could still get a shot of cold,” he said.

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