In the community

Malheur County endures record-breaking heat but moderation is coming

ONTARIO – Every few moments the door opened and a heavy wave of hot air rolled into the New Hope Day Shelter on Second Street in Ontario.

It was Thursday, July 28, and David Winters sat at one of the big community-style tables, smiling as he filled out a housing application. 

Matters were looking up for Winters, who had been living on the street for the past week. He had a job lined up and high hopes for a roof over his head. 

The prospect of housing was a godsend for Winters, and it also would mean he could get out of the blistering heat that covered the Treasure Valley.
Living on the street isn’t easy and with a seven-day forecast of temperatures in the 100s and the challenges multiply for people such as Winters.

“It’s tough,” he admitted. 

Unless he is in the day shelter, he can’t rely on air conditioning. So, he uses other methods to stay cool.

“I just go sit in the shade for a while until I dry off,” he said.

Winters is one of countless individuals struggling with the heat, adhering to simple goals: Stay hydrated. Try to stay cool.

A sign at Elks Lodge warns people as temperatures reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit in Ontario on July 26. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

That need intensified across the Treasure Valley last week as 100 degree-plus temperatures prompted the National Weather Service to issue an excessive heat warning through the weekend. 

David Groenert, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boise, said the local area would see above normal temperatures with new records set in some places during the heat wave.

“Normal for this time of year is the low to mid 90s,” said Groenert.

How long the high temperatures are hard to determine, he said.

“Generally, I’d say seven days is our best eye. Beyond that, unless all the different models are showing the same thing, after seven days you generally start to lose confidence,” he said.

The playground at Lions park, which is hot to the touch, sits empty as temperatures reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit in Ontario on July 26. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

The week’s temperatures will flirt with late July heat records for Malheur County. The hottest recorded July day temperature was 113 degrees in 1967. On Friday, Ontario set a record for the date, reaching 111 degrees by 6 p.m. The old record was 109, set in 1968. The temperature hit 107 on Saturday and Sunday, tying the record high for Sunday.

Some were taking the weather in stride. Paul Woodworth, Oregon Department of Transportation district manager called it “just a normal summer for us.” 

His crews are used to working in the heat, but when it gets this hot, they begin to follow state Occupational Safety and Health guidelines for heat, including a mandated increase in breaks.

 “That’s just good common sense,” Woodworth said.

Ontario Fire Chief Terry Leighton was on the watch for an increase in cases of heat exhaustion and he warned people to take precautions, especially if they are working outside or have little access to air conditioning. 

Signs of heat exhaustion include: Heavy sweating; painful muscle cramps; extreme weakness or fatigue; nausea and or vomiting; fainting; a fast and weak pulse; breathing fast and shallow and clammy, pale, cool skin.

Symptoms of heat stroke are: no sweating; mental confusion, dizziness; hot and dry skin and a rapid and weak pulse; throbbing headache and shallow breathing; unconsciousness and a body temperature ranges from 102 degrees to 104 degrees or higher.

For safety in the heat, the National Weather Service suggests drinking more fluids, staying in air-conditioned spaces and shade whenever possible, wearing a brimmed hat, and checking in on neighbors. During an excessive heat warning, it’s also recommended to work outside early in the morning or late into the evening, rather than in the heat of the day. 

“It’s tough” said David Winters who has been on the street for a little over a week. “I just go sit in the shade for a while until I dry off.” He and others take shelter from the heat at the New Hope Day Shelter as temperatures reach 107 degrees in Ontario on July 28. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

Ontario operated two cooling centers available during the day. One is at Four Rivers Cultural Center, which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. 

New Hope Day Shelter at Origins on 312 N.W. 2nd St. in Ontario is also offering cooling services and serving meals. The meal service is from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and it’s open Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Origins also offers cold showers, which have been busy as the temperatures have climbed above 100. 

Local families looking to beat the heat last week found respite at the Ontario Splash Park and Vale City Pool. Admission to the Vale City Pool is $4. The splash pad is open every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the cost is $1. 

The high heat also impacts crops – and the people who work with them. 

“Nobody is a fan of excessive heat and that includes plants,” said Stuart Reitz, Oregon State University director for extension programming in Malheur County. “All crops have an upper thermal threshold and when it gets too hot, they basically shut down. 

“This spring we had that cool weather early, that delayed crop growth. When we have these 100-degree temperatures that’s a stress on the plants as well,” he said.

He also said agriculture operators need to be aware of Oregon’s rules for workers in the heat. 

“If you have employees outdoors, they need to have breaks and access to water. It’s just common sense, no one wants one of their workers to keel over and have a problem out in the field because they’re not doing well,” said Reitz. 

Contact photojournalist Isaac Wasserman by email at [email protected]

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM – Available for $7.50 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for – day in and day out from the Enterprise.