Slide show: Heat wave has Riverhead all dried up

07/08/2010 12:00 AM |

College student Peter Wieswiolek, 21, of Aquebogue, cools off behind the counter with a fan and bottled water at Bayview Market in Aquebogue Wednesday afternoon.

Sweat pouring down his face, Juan Ramos labored to load some 5,000 pounds of salon products onto a truck in Aquebogue Tuesday, when local temperatures reached an estimated 99 degrees. Like others who worked outdoors through this week’s heat wave, he said he had no choice but to load the supplies for his family’s distribution company, Luisa’s Magic Scissors, on that day.

His only way to cope with the situation?

“A lot of iced tea,” he said.

Mr. Ramos and others in Riverhead Town tried their best to get on with everyday life as they pushed slowly through a wall of heat that’s persisted since Sunday. The record-breaking temperatures combined for the hottest week of the year, during which town residents were advised to watch their water usage and power consumption, stay hydrated and, if possible, keep cool. No serious heat-related injuries were reported, Riverhead Police said.

But the weather kept members of Riverhead Fire Department busy. The dry ground was a problem across town as seven brush fires broke out within the Riverhead Fire District. The first sparked up on Monday, one off Doctors Path in Riverhead, one at the intersection of Twomey Avenue and Sound Avenue in Calverton and two at the same location on South River Road, also in Calverton.

Another brush fire off Mill Road in Riverhead was quickly extinguished Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning volunteers put out two blazes near the intersection of Middle Road and Roanoke Avenue and on West Main Street.

Riverhead Fire Chief Nick Luparella said the cause of the blazes was not immediately known.

“The problem is people being careless,” said Riverhead firefighter Bill Sanok. Mr. Sanok said lit cigarettes and cars with catalytic converters parked on dry grass are two major causes of brush fires. “Eighty percent [of brush fires] are of that nature,” he said.

He added that it’s not unusual to see a spike in brush fires in hot, dry weather.

The superintendent of the Riverhead Water District declared a water emergency Tuesday, saying district tanks are running “dangerously low.”

Superintendent Gary Pendzick asked all Riverhead residents to cease using lawn irrigation systems through the end of the heat weave, which forecasters say should break today.

“Everyone of our records for gallons pumped has been broken [in recent weeks],” Mr. Pendzick said.

The district has five water tanks, 12 wells and two boosters, and Mr. Pendzick said the stress on each one has been due to “unprecedented lawn irrigation” this June and early July.

There has been zero precipitation in the area so far this month, and none since nearly an inch of rainfall fell June 22. There have only been two inches of recorded precipitation since June 1, according to the National Weather Service in Upton.

The water emergency declaration was issued on the same day the National Weather Service announced an air quality alert for the five East End towns due to increased ozone levels. People were advised to limit strenuous outdoor activity.

Temperatures in some parts of the island reached over 100 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday, breaking records at numerous recording sites in the tri-state area. Record-breaking temperatures were observed at Macarthur Airport in Islip Tuesday, the nearest site at which the NWS records official data. Temperatures reached 101 degrees that day, breaking the 1999 record of 99 degrees for July 6. It was the second-hottest day ever recorded in Islip since 1984, when the NWS began keeping records from that location.

The heat wave was attributed to a high pressure system hanging over the Northeast, said Lauren Nash, an NWS meteorologist. She said the air has become stagnant due to little wind or rain, but a low pressure system from the southeast should bring some cooler weather later in the week. She said the area should be getting relief today, Thursday, with temperatures in the low 80s.

“You see it quite often in the summer,” she said of the high pressure system.

The Long Island Power Authority is advising residents to limit power usage as much as possible to avoid brownouts.

There were 23 reported outages in Wading River as of Wednesday and fewer than 80 power outages reported across the East End, according to LIPA figures.

Despite the scorching midday sun, attendance at the town beach in South Jamesport looked sparse Tuesday afternoon, where the Peconic Bay seemed to hover around bathtub temperature. The beach attendant said many people left because it was just too hot.

That didn’t bother Shane Psaltis of Aquebogue, who came to soak up some sun with his wife and twin 2-year-olds.

“It’s colder past the ropes,” he said of the water temperatures. “And it’s cooler here than it is at our house.”

[email protected]