Staff Writer

Wednesday temperatures came within a few degrees of breaking a heat record in the region, sending farmers scrambling to water their crops and retailers scrambling to keep air conditioners in stock.

Temperatures in the Augusta area on the first day of summer topped out at about 92 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.

Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the weather service, predicted that today’s temperatures would come close to breaking records in the region of lows 90s.

“It’s going to be close,” he said. “Within a couple of degrees.”

Kistner said that Maine is in the midst of a weather system that took its moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, and its heat from southern states like Texas and Louisiana. By Friday, the warm front will have been undercut by a blast of cold from Canada, which will include rain going into the weekend.

Unhealthy heat

The stifling heat and humidity won’t pose the same kind of health risk that came with last year’s heat wave, which approached triple digits, Kistner said. Still, he recommended that those who are more vulnerable to conditions, such as the elderly and small children, be sure to stay out of the sun and minimize physical activity.

Mike Smith, the emergency management director in Somerset County, said that people should use common sense.

“People need to be aware and make sure that they’re hydrating well. Stay where the air is a little bit better,” he said.

Some were beating the heat by visiting public pools. In Augusta, the Williams and Calumet playground pools were packed with children.

“They’re having a great time,” said Leif Dahlin, the city’s community services director.

The pool at McCall’s playground will be open today now that the staff has completed certification requirements, he said. The city’s pools are open Tuesday through Saturday, and extra hours are added when temperatures reach the 90s.

Warm work

In Gardiner, Central Maine Pyrotechnics crews got a break from the heat Wednesday every time they entered old storage magazines to look for fireworks. They were busy hauling materials and three wooden floats in 90-plus degree weather to Gardiner’s Waterfront Park to set up a fireworks display for the River Festival this weekend.

Steve Marson, owner of the fireworks company, said the old storage containers he keeps on Maple Street in Farmingdale were previously used as refrigerator cars, so they’re cooler inside because of their 8-inch walls.

“We didn’t have it that hot inside where we’ve been transferring stuff around,” Marson said. “But when we’ve been outside, it has been warm. We’re drinking plenty of water and probably have gone through a couple of cases.”

Dave Pike said that his pick-your-own strawberry farm in Farmington will shorten the picking season for his customers. The heat, he said, can sterilize the blossoms on some plants and cause faster-than-normal ripening on others.

“I’m not even sure we’re going to have strawberries on the Fourth of July,” he said.

David Lavway, a director with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that he expected most farmers to know how to adapt to the heat.

“It is going to have some impact on what they do, but most of the farmers are pretty aware of what they need to do,” he said.

Tom Roberts, owner of Snakeroot Farm in Pittsfield, said that the heat presents a challenge to the normal day’s routine.

“We try to get an early start to all the hard work,” he said. “From 9 to 4, we reserve it for less difficult work. We’re having to juggle all this stuff, and just rearrange it because of the heat.”

Roberts said that, on days like these, he realizes why farmers in Mexico take a siesta. He wasn’t looking forward to the farmers’ market, he said, because “then we have the unenviable job of standing on the asphalt to sell.”

Amy LeBlanc, of Whitehill Farm in East Wilton, said that she had to close down the farm during the hottest hours and send workers home to ensure their health.

LeBlanc said that the hot days are just one more sign of increased weather instability that she’s seen over the past 10 years.

“The extremes are getting to be more expected, more commonplace,” she said. “I’m finding that it’s taking a bigger toll mentally than it used to.”

Air conditioner sales spike

Air conditioner sales were surging at local retail outlets, which left some retailers unable to keep certain models in stock. Portable units, and units with high energy-efficiency ratings were particularly popular, they said.

Steve Barrows, owner of Steve’s Appliance in Sidney, said that people reacted to a shortage of air conditioners last year by buying early this year, beginning with the first 80-degree day in March. The result has been the sale of hundreds of units, with a spike beginning on Saturday, when weather forecasts first began to mention temperatures in the 90s.

“We’ve sold as many this year as we’ve sold all last year,” he said.

This year was the first that Barrows could recall in which the Energy Star Rebate Program had run out of money early in the hot season.

Some customers are even buying two or three units to protect themselves against a breakdown, or extreme conditions, Barrows said, which helped contribute to certain models selling out by Wednesday morning.

The brisk sales are good news — up to a point.

“We always want to sell out,” Barrows said. “But we want to make sure people who need them can get them. Our concern is always someone with a medical condition not being able to buy one.”

Bob Beauchesne, who works for Sears in Augusta, said that sales took off Wednesday morning.

“It takes that one hot spell,” said Beauchesne. “Everybody’s running to get their ACs in and they’ll notice they’re having issues.”

Staff writers Betty Adams and Mechele Cooper contributed reporting.

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