PORTLAND – Bruce Hildebrandt whipped off his white hard hat Friday so he could empty the remainder of a bottle of water over his head, trying to stay cool and ward off heat stroke.
Hildebrandt was part of the Peterson Party Center’s tent crew breaking down the stages and tents from Thursday’s Stars and Stripes Spectacular on the Eastern Promenade.
It’s the kind of job, he said, that you can’t say “let’s do it tomorrow.”
Friday’s heat made everything harder for Hildebrandt and his crew, who were out in the sun from 9 a.m. to well into the afternoon.
Friday’s temperature topped out at 93 degrees in Portland, said the National Weather Service, one degree shy of the record for July 5, set in 1999. And temperatures are expected to go above 90 degrees Saturday and Sunday, before some relief arrives Monday.
Every month of this year has been warmer than normal, according to the weather service. Meteorologist Michael Cempa said that’s due largely to overnight temperatures that haven’t fallen as much as normal.
For example, June’s average temperature was 64.9 degrees, 1.5 degrees above normal. The highs, Cdempa said, were about a half-degree above normal and the low temperatures were about 2.4 degrees above normal.
Three straight days above 90 degrees qualifies as a heat wave, although that’s not an official designation, said Mike Kistner, another meteorologist with the weather service.
The heat index, which factors in the humidity to provide a “feels like” temperature, hit 99 on Friday.
Kistner said it’s expected to go into triple digits Saturday and Sunday because the sea breeze – which, believe it or not, helped keep things from getting hotter Thursday and Friday – isn’t expected to provide as much relief.
The Peterson Party Center’s workers had to keep drinking water in Friday’s heat and humidity, adding empty bottles to a growing mountain of plastic off to one side of the work site.
The metal X-bars that Hildebrandt and his crew took out of the stage without gloves and moved onto a truck were searing hot.
Workers had to keep an eye out for symptoms of heat stroke, in which the body overheats and stops cooling down by sweating.
“You have to keep an eye on everybody you’re working with,” Hildebrandt said. “If someone looks like they’re getting dizzy, put them in the shade a while and get them hydrated. We don’t take heat stroke lightly.”
Despite the heat, Hildebrandt counted his blessings Friday, noting the relief that came from Casco Bay.
“At least you got a little sea breeze going here,” he said, pointing out to the water. “If we were in a forest or something, we would be in real trouble.”
Randy Townsend, 22, also worked in the heat Friday, doing a job that couldn’t wait until a cooler day. Many Maine Department of Transportation crews had the day off Friday, enjoying a long holiday weekend, said engineer Beecher Whitcomb.
But because the temporary traffic signal equipment on Exit 17 off Interstate 295 in Yarmouth is needed soon in Massachusetts, Townsend was under the hot sun, shoveling dirt into holes as other members of his crew removed tall wooden poles.
“You really just have to drink a lot of water, even though it just makes you sweat more,” said Townsend. “And don’t drink soda or none of that stuff, because it’ll just make your arms and everything feel heavier, and make you feel bloated.”
Townsend said he usually checks the weather in the morning so he can wear the right clothes for the conditions.
“But I guess I wasn’t watching it this morning, because I wore black,” he said, using the T-shirt to wipe his face.
The crew worked to remove the poles along the exit, loading them onto a trailer hitched to an auger truck and moving about 25 feet down the road to work on the next pole.
“It’s hot, but somebody’s got to be removing the poles,” said crew foreman Ray Lacombe. “The truck’s got (air conditioning) so you get in and you get a little blast of cold air before you got to get back out again.”
Both crews were trying to finish their tasks quickly so they could get out of the sun for the day, go home and take cold showers.
“The faster you work, the sooner you can get out of it, the better,” Hildebrandt said.
Kistner said Maine should emerge from the heat in a couple of days. A cool front is expected to move through about midday Monday, kicking off some showers and thunderstorms.
The high is expected to be in the low 80s Monday and to stay around there, closer to normal, through the rest of next week.