With temperatures at 'bake,' it's hot all over

In the hydrant are Jose Candelaria and Hector Colon (right) as they cool off from the high temperatures on Tuesday afternoon. Residents near N. 9th and Indiana enjoy cooling off in the spray of the fire hydrant on Tuesday afternoon July 16, 2013. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
In the hydrant are Jose Candelaria and Hector Colon (right) as they cool off from the high temperatures on Tuesday afternoon. Residents near N. 9th and Indiana enjoy cooling off in the spray of the fire hydrant on Tuesday afternoon July 16, 2013. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ) (DN)
Posted: July 16, 2013

We find ourselves this week simmering in the geothermic core of July.

It is hot.

So hot that the sidewalk outside Payless on Chestnut Street makes melted cheese of your flip flops.

So hot that to sit at the outdoor tables at Serafina's constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

So hot that, to keep his scalp from scorching as he hauled old windows into a Dumpster on Chancellor Street, union laborer Paul Bey packed his hard hat with paper towels, hosed down a blue microfiber towel, slapped the whole thing on his head and created one cool, fetching chapeau.

"Sweating is OK," said Bey, 54, who has worked for Laborers Local 332 for 26 years in every extreme iteration of nature.

Given the choice, he'd rather wilt than shiver. Uncomfortable but unfazed, Bey reached for a bottle of water stuffed into his front jeans pocket.

Tuesday, the fourth heat wave of the season became official - a third consecutive day of 90-plus heat.

Not as bad as the 102 high mark set in 1988, but plenty uncomfortable. Philadelphia did set a record, though, Tuesday. The temperature bottomed out at 81 early in the morning, making it the warmest low temperature for a July 16 since meteorologists began keeping score in 1874. The previous record was 77.

Overnight-warmth records will be challenged the rest of the work week. Afternoon highs are expected to reach the mid- to upper-90s through Saturday as a high pressure system off the Atlantic Coast steeps the region in warm, damp air from the subtropics.

"Every day gets a little worse," said Tony Gigi, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly. "Saturday looks miserable."

For a guy like Dave Lopez, who makes a living grilling hot dogs in a food cart, misery is relative.

In Conshohocken Tuesday, Lopez, who operates the Race to Taste Curbside Grill on Fayette Street, took a so-what approach to the heat.

"Weather is weather," he said, smearing ketchup and mustard on a hot dog for a customer. "We're all going to live if we drink water."

A few blocks away, on Spring Mill road, a contractor, Bud Slemmer, prepared to repair a gas line. Already wearing jeans and boots, he threw on a heavy leather coat, work gloves and a welding mask.

On Monday, Slemmer said, he and his crew used an infrared thermometer to take the temperature of their microenvironment.

The results were both impressive and alarming: The inside of a hard hat, 103 degrees. Boots, 110 degrees. Pavement, 122 degrees.

Coping with heat could not be simpler, said Slemmer's fellow crew member Mike Hardcastle.

"Water, water, water," Hardcastle laughed.

At the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, however, water does not cut it.

To tend to the particular tastes of her charges, animal keeper Rachel Killeen must freeze blood, fish and fruit into large cubes of ice.

"We have to get crafty," said Killeen. "If the frozen water taste like blood, then it's delicious for them."

(Bella and Edward, eat your hearts out.)

At the Philadelphia Zoo, a pair of 32-year-old polar bears Klondike and Coldilocks, had access to temperature-controlled dens.

They preferred, however, to cool down in their 125,000-gallon pool. Klondike, a lithe 475-pounder, lounged in the water, lifting her face to the cold mist from a custom-made water sprinkler.

Tammy Schmidt, curator of carnivores and ungulates - that is, animals with hooves - came prepared, with ice treats filled with blueberries and peanut butter. Coldilocks watched from poolside as Schmidt launched the blocks of ice, as big as lunch boxes, into the water. Seconds later, the bear threw herself in, with enthusiasm if not grace, and floating face-first, swatted at the snacks.

"I'm jealous," said Holly Rodriguez, who brought her three daughters from Lebanon, Pa. "I want to jump in the water."

Which was precisely George Jerome Shields' solution.

Shields, a first-grader from Kensington, spent much of the afternoon swimming in the fountain at Love Park under his grandmother's protective watch. Climbing out of the water, goose-bumpy and grinning, he agreed to answer the burning question, "What is your favorite part of summer?"

"Getting wet!"

Far, far away in Sea Isle City, it was a war in the hot sand.

Some armed themselves against the heat with the latest in solar defense technology - fancy tents, canopies and UV resistant rash guards. Others literally blistered asleep in a chair, naked sunburned children half napping beside them.

But there were no rookie mistakes at the 40th Street beach. Here, they went old school: Five moms, eight kids, 13 beach chairs and seven umbrellas, three patched with duct tape. Two more available if needed.

"Once you step out from under the umbrellas, it's bad," said Lisa Carr, who said the various families - the Carr Bentz, Helms, Wilson, Robinson moms and kids, dads here on the weekends - have been gathering at that beach for a decade. They hail from Plymouth Meeting, Haddon Heights and Philadelphia.

Behind the outdoor bar at the Carousel, manager Mark Eidenberg, put his job in perspective.

"We're saving lives up here at the Carousel," said manager Mark Eidenberg behind the outdoor bar, "one beer at time."

Contact Melissa Dribben at 215 854 2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com or @dribbenonphilly.

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