Scotty Owens, owner of Owen’s Landscaping & Pressure Washing, has a hard time finding workers willing to work through the intense heat and humidity during the summer months.
“When it gets really hot like this, all your help quits on you,” he said.
He has at least three employees during the spring, but they start quitting one by one in June.
Virginia typically has very humid summers, and this one has been no exception. Since July 1, the Dan River Region has experienced an average high of 93 degrees, according to data from the daily weather archive from Pittsylvania County. Reggie Roakes, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, said the dew point has also consistently been in the 70s — a very muggy number.
With the current heat wave, which is expected to carry at least through the weekend, residents who work outside all day like Owens have to adjust their approach to stay safe.
During the hotter months he often works earlier in the morning, takes some time off in the afternoon, and then resumes work in the evening, so as to avoid the most intense heat.
Even after 14 years in the business, Owens still says the heat is still a factor in the way he approaches his work.
“I kinda got used to [the heat], but it still affects me big time,” he said.
The National Weather Service prefers to measure humidity using dew point instead of relative humidity. Relative humidity is a measurement of the moisture saturation in the air, given in a percentage, while the dew point is the temperature the air would need to reach to achieve a relative humidity of 100% — meaning the air could not hold any more moisture.
Roakes said over the past few weeks the dew point has been in the 70s, which is quite high. The higher the dew point temperature, the muggier the air will be. And the muggier the air, the less your body can cool itself.
Humans sweat as a way to keep themselves cool. The beads of sweat evaporating into the air is what actually does the cooling. Roakes said the more moisture is in the air, the less effective sweating will be.
“That sweat cannot evaporate off of you, which means that it can’t effectively cool you,” Roakes said.
Roakes also said he anticipates the National Weather Service needing to issue heat advisory warnings during the next few days, which are issued when there is a head index of 105 degrees.
Danville Public Works sends crews throughout the city for physically strenuous tasks such as buildings and grounds maintenance and street maintenance.
Richard Drazenovich, director of public works, said they provide training for their employees, encouraging them to take breaks and stay hydrated during the heat and humidity.
“We’re real cognizant of [the heat]” he said.
Benny Alford supervises crews with the department. One of the steps he takes to keep workers safe is trying as much as possible to plan jobs in such a way that there is more shade available during the hotter parts of the day. Each crew also has their own water coolers, as well as powder for a sports-drink that they can add to their water.
Drazenovich said most of the crews also work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., meaning they get to maximize the cooler morning hours.
Oliver Lipford performs landscaping with public works, and he said he is able to work much more efficiently during the cooler weather.
“I just take my time,” he said. “It’s the only thing you can do in this heat.”
The National Weather Service encourages outdoor workers to stay hydrated and take lots of breaks, Roakes said. It’s best to have these breaks indoors if possible, he added, but the shade also works.
Roakes also said the National Weather Service anticipates the heat wave continuing through the weekend and then slowly tapering off from there.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.