Heat won't let up, so metro Atlantans adapt

Yes, it’s hot.

We live in Georgia. It’s supposed to be hot.

But this extended spell of above-90 days, high humidity and no cooling rain has pushed home-cooling bills as high as the mercury, and it has metro Atlantans seeking relief at the movies, at the mall or in cold showers.

We’ve all adjusted in our own ways. While some kids flock to pools, others bounce around in indoor playgrounds, and state office buildings in Atlanta crank up their air conditioning a little earlier in the day, to get temperatures bearable.

At North Gwinnett High School, two-a-day practices begin at 6:30 in the morning, before the evening cool has dissipated. The team takes frequent water breaks, and a full-time trainer checks the heat index and decides whether the team will suit up or just wear helmets.

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“We’re not going to go to full pads at all tonight,” head coach Bob Sphire said before a Wednesday evening practice. “It’s a whole lot different than it was in my day,” when coaches thought playing in the heat -- without water -- made kids tougher.

Thursday will feel like 100-plus through the early evening, according to Bob Garcia with the National Weather Service, which is sending out a heat advisory to the metro area. The mercury was well on its way toward a forecast high of 95, with a reading of 88 at noon.

“Drink water” is a common refrain from officials offering guidance on keeping cool, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty. An hour before practice is too late to rehydrate, said David Marshall, medical director of sports medicine at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “You have to start the night before.”

Cobb County children return to classes Thursday and are advised to take precautions during the hot bus rides to and from school. (Only 107 of the 900 buses are air conditioned.) Administrators urge kids to bring water with them to drink on the bus, and they are prepared to cancel athletics if the heat index rises too high.

Concerns about heat aren't just aimed at kids.

Delta workers trucking baggage carts across the tarmac at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta are being advised to rehydrate, and have been provided extra water stations and cold wet towels during the hottest part of the day.

The heat proved deadly for Aaros, a Fayette County Sheriff’s K-9, who suffered heat exhaustion Tuesday while chasing burglary suspects in the woods. The German shepherd collapsed and died on the way to the vet’s office.

Georgia Power customers used extra power this hot summer to stay cool, and were extra-mad when they received their bills, delivering more than the usual complaints to the utility.

The state Public Service Commission saw complaints triple this June, when the hot weather first hit, compared with last June.

They could cool those hot tempers in the pool, but “once the swimming pools turn to bathwater, Mama doesn’t want to be outside in this heat,” said Brooke Hawkins, owner of two Monkey Joe’s indoor play-centers in Roswell and Cumming.

Hot weather boosts the number of little ones bouncing on the inflatables and enjoying the air conditioning at facilities such as his, Hawkins said.

Despite the heat, visitors still flock to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which added some high-profile improvements this year, including the Canopy Walk. That edgy attraction sends visitors strolling at treetop level into the shade of the 13-acre Storza Woods, which is 5 degrees cooler than the open areas of the garden, said executive director Mary Pat Matheson.

Attendance at the garden is up by about 50 percent, she said.

The unusually early onset of high heat -- June was the hottest in 30 years -- started almost the minute Georgia Power began charging its higher summer rates on June 1. People not only use more power in the summer, but pay more for it: A kilowatt hour in July can cost more than double than a kilowatt hour in April. And the per kilowatt hour rates hit their highest when it’s the hottest, and air conditioners are running long and hard. The price goes up the more kilowatt hours a customer uses.

The demand for power peaked for the year on July 29, when it hit 15,980 megawatts. That’s still short of the company’s all-time peak, which it hit during a streak of 100-degree-plus days in August 2007. The peak was 17,985 megawatts.

If you think your electric bill is high, be assured that it could be much worse. Downtown buildings are expensive to cool. The 1 million-square-foot Twin Towers (the James H. “Sloppy” Floyd building) cost $240,000 to cool in July, said spokeswoman Katy Pando.

Sometimes, keeping cool is all in a day's work. Jim Duggan wears a ski suit to work, which is one of the upsides of being an ice sculptor. “It’s very refreshing,” he said of the 18-degree cooler at his Marietta facility where he carves 400-pound blocks of ice into swans and other wildlife.

The downside? Trying to deliver his creations before they melt. “We wrap them in sleeping bags.”

Staff writers Margaret Newkirk and Howard Pousner contributed to this article.

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