Featured, State News

Heat breaks records

By Emma Cotton/VTDigger

On the heels of abnormally dry conditions, softened but not eliminated by last week’s rain, early June has brought several days of increasingly common record-breaking heat to Vermont. 

Swimmers flocked to lakefronts and rivers over the weekend and early this week, and at least one school district closed early on Monday, lacking air conditioning. Cities with cooling centers, which typically provide a cool place to rest for those who need it, haven’t opened yet, caught off guard by the relatively early heat wave.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service and the Vermont Dept. of Health have issued a reminder to hydrate, stay out of the sun when possible and avoid overexertion. 

“We started breaking records back on Saturday, partially because the records happened to be kind of on a lower threshold to break,” said Roger Hill, a meteorologist based in Worcester. 

Montpelier’s high temperature of 85 degrees on Saturday, for example, tied its 1974 record. 

Then, on Sunday, the high temperatures broke three records. At 95 degrees, Burlington beat its previous high of 94 degrees, set in 1925. Temperatures at the Montpelier airport reached 90 degrees, breaking its previous 85-degree record for the day. Plattsburgh, New York, reached 93 degrees, breaking the record of 88 degrees, set in 1959, Hill said. 

By midday Monday, temperatures were on the cusp of breaking more records, and though the heat will likely subside over the next 24 hours, humidity is expected to rise. 

“We have heat waves now and then, but this one’s a pretty strong one,” Hill said. 

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory Monday for the Champlain and Connecticut River valleys. School closed early in Brattleboro, where temperatures reached 91 degrees Monday. 

“I’m concerned that the combination of the temperature, the humidity and the mask-wearing is going to be really unsafe for kids and staff,” said Andy Skarzynski, superintendent of the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union.

While Skarzynski said he’s new to the district, school closures from heat are common at the end and beginning of the year in Connecticut, where he’s from. Barb Nowakowski, the district’s executive secretary, said it’s the first time she’s seen an early closure prompted by heat. 

With many Covid-19 restrictions still in place, options for residents to find places to cool down were scant.

Residents in the Burlington area could dip into the Fletcher Free Library, which has been a designated cooling center in the past, but were limited to 45 minutes of browsing time due to the ongoing pandemic. The city is developing a cooling center plan for later this summer.

There were no designated cooling centers in Colchester, Essex or in Rutland City, according to their parks and recreation departments, but Rutland’s town hall was open to the public.

The warm trend may continue, according to the National Weather Service three-month outlook, which projects a 54% chance of a summer with “above normal” temperatures. 

Unusually hot weather is becoming less unusual as Vermont’s climate warms. On average, spring arrives two weeks earlier than in 1960, and average air temperatures have increased by 2 degrees in the summer and 4 degrees in the winter, according to the Vermont Dept. of Health. 

Vermont currently experiences around six days per year with temperatures above 87 degrees, but that’s expected to increase to more than 20 days per year, according to state data. 

In the Champlain Valley, farmers are feeling the combination of hot and dry weather, said John Roberts, executive director of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition.

Cows, in particular, struggle with heat, he said. High temperatures curb their appetite, which can cause dairy production to slow. While some dairy farmers have invested in large fans and misters, which cool the animals down, such systems require an abundance of electricity, which is expensive. 

“It’s not as common here as it is for the South,” Roberts said. “It might get more common here if climate change continues, which it’s going to.”

Roberts also described the conditions in Cornwall, where he lives, as “incredibly dry.” Last week’s weather brought about a half-inch of rain, he said, which still leaves the area with far less than a typical year.

“Every inch of rain is like 27,000 gallons per acre,” he said. “You start adding up the acres, and you get to needing a huge amount of water pretty quickly.”

Greg Cox, who owns Boardman Hill Farm in West Rutland, recently installed a drip irrigation system for his vegetables, which he said is working well. 

“Some farms are affected more than others,” he said. “If you’re on sands, it can be tough if you’re in a drought. We have pretty amazing soil in that it has a lot of holding capacity for water.”

He said he may lose some spinach and lettuce, but most of his crops thrive in sun and heat.

“The season is made up of winners and losers,” he said, “and at the end I just hope we have more wins than losses.” 

Seamus McAvoy contributed reporting.

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