June 28, 2012

Nation's hot spot Hill City bemoans extreme heat

It is so hot and dry in Hill City

It is so hot and dry in Hill City

Farmers and ranchers are a week to two weeks away from downsizing their cowherds.

Crops are withering.

Metal left outside is burning fingertips.

It’s too hot to cool off in the city pool.

It’s too dry to keep lawns green.

“If the devil wants his weather back, I’m ready to give it to him,” Cleon Davis, a Hill City farmer, said Thursday.

Since Sunday, if you had any lick of sense at all, the one place you didn’t want to be was Hill City, about 240 miles northwest of Wichita.

For four days in a row, it has been the hottest city in the nation. Tuesday and Wednesday, temperature gauges topped out at 115 degrees; Sunday, it was 114; Monday, 111. And Thursday by 3:45 p.m., the temperature was 110 degrees.

“It is just miserable,” said Gary Cameron, a retired Graham County engineer. “Anything you touch will burn you if you don’t have gloves on.”

Forecasters see no relief anytime soon.

“Unfortunately, this ridge is pretty locked in for the next few days and could be for the next seven to 10 days,” said Alex Laugeman, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita. “All we can offer is to do your best to stay cool. Drink water. And don’t do anything strenuous outside for a long period of time.”

Most people are staying indoors in Hill City. There’s not much activity on the streets. Those who are out are using caution and staying hydrated.

“Air conditioners are running nonstop,” said Chris Petty, a Graham County extension agent.

“This heat isn’t good for the crops. Farmers and ranchers are concerned about feeding their cattle. Most are hoping the government opens up the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) grassland for grazing or haying. Lots of cattle may soon be going to the auction barn.”

It has been more than seven weeks since any measureable moisture has fallen in Graham County.

“We are five inches behind in moisture for this time of the year,” Davis said. “With very little moisture now and not much last summer, it’s been tough.”

Willis Brandyberry, a 74-year-old retired Graham County farmer, remembers at least one other time in his life that he’s experienced extreme heat like this. The driest and hottest was the summer of 1956.

“We had a very similar situation,” Brandyberry said. “But you know? People back then didn’t have air-conditioning like we do now. People back then were just used to it.”

They used little tricks to beat the heat, Brandyberry said, like wearing big-brimmed hats that offered more shade.

“In this day and age, people have their air conditioners set at 75 degrees,” he said. “You go out, and the heat just kills you.”

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