Heat goes to extremes

Though Thursday’s record-tying 116 degree heat didn’t force birds to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground, the brutal conditions did cause Kathy Lapin’s head to feel as if it was swelling up like a microwaved bag of popcorn.

The 48-year-old woman gripped her head as she lay in a fetal position near the basketball court at Dula Gymnasium, one of several extra government "cooling stations" opened in Las Vegas this week to help the homeless beat the heat.

"I came here from California to get a job, but it’s too hot for me to go around, especially having to bring my luggage with me. They won’t let me leave it at the Rescue Mission. If it stays hot like this, I know I’ll get headaches and won’t ever get a job."

About two dozen other homeless men and women joined Lapin at the recreational facility near Bonanza Road and Las Vegas Boulevard as high temperatures continued to bring dangerously hot conditions to Southern Nevada.

Thursday’s 116 degree temperature measured at McCarran International Airport tied the record for a July 5, hit in 1985. Las Vegans have sweltered in a 116 degree day only 11 times since 1940.

Thursday’s low temperature of 86 also tied the record for the warmest ever low for a July 5. That mark was reached in 1981.

Thursday’s high was one degree off the official all-time high of 117, reached in 2005 and 1942. You’ll get some relief today. The high is predicted to top out at 114.

The incessant heat since Tuesday has killed car batteries, split tires and temporarily knocked out power. Transformers blew Thursday as people ran their air conditioning at record demand.

But Kristina Zemaitis, a spokeswoman for University Medical Center, said only two people were treated at the hospital for "heat-related situations."

"They got an IV with fluids, nothing exceptional," she said. "People in Las Vegas are good about dealing with the heat."

Brian Fuis, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said, "It’s not unusual to see high temperatures in July, but these are higher than the normal. We’ve just got a strong high pressure system."

The weather service’s excessive heat warning continues through today. Beginning Saturday, Fuis said, temperatures should drop to "110ish" for about a week.

Dennis Williams, 49, who was one of the homeless at the Dula Gymnasium, said the heat wave may actually be good for him in the long run.

Williams said he was a marketing professional who lost his $75,000-a-year job about a month ago because he was incapable of staying away from alcohol.

"Being homeless in this heat makes me realize I’m never going to drink again," he said.

Sean Miller, an assistant manager of a Tire Works store at 9590 W. Tropicana Ave., said this week’s heat wave is good for his business, just about tripling the customers walking through the door.

"The heat is cracking tread and causing batteries to die," Miller said.

Nevada Power’s Andrea Smith said the utility set a record system peak of 5866 megawatts at 5 p.m. Thursday, breaking the previous record of 5618 megawatts set on July 17 a year ago. A megawatt is a million watts.

The searing temperatures are blamed for causing 27 electric transformers to break down. Transformers typically serve about 10 or 15 customers in a neighborhood.

"It’s similar to a car overheating," Smith said. "It certainly is not related to our energy supply."

Stephanie Bethel, a spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District, said it’s critical that Southern Nevadans remain hydrated.

Though many people think only in terms of headaches and nausea in regards to the heat, she said, heat stroke is a real possibility if people aren’t careful.

When people aren’t hydrated, body temperatures can reach upwards of 106 degrees, and permanent disability, if not death, can occur.

The extra cooling stations at recreational centers were definitely helping people, said Shannon West, the area’s regional homeless coordinator.

West also said she was heartened to see area law enforcement officers handing out water to the homeless.

"They jumped at the chance to help people," she said. "It was really great to see."

Review-Journal writer John Edwards contributed to this report.

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