CHAMPAIGN — Temperatures reached triple digits in Champaign-Urbana on Friday for a third consecutive day — a feat that hasn't been achieved here since 1936.
Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel said the thermometer topped off at 103 degrees at 2:59 p.m. Friday.
While it wasn't a record for July 6 (the twin cities saw temperatures of 105 degrees in 1936), it marked the first time the area reached triple digits three days in a row since Aug. 16, 17 and 18, 1936.
If temperatures crack the 100-degree mark today, Angel said it would be a feat that has only been accomplished four times before in Champaign-Urbana.
He said the area received triple-digit temperatures on July 25-28, 1916; July 20-25, 1934; July 4-8, 1936; and July 10-15, 1936.
"Reaching 100 degrees four days in a row is pretty unusual," Angel said.
To avoid the worst of midday heat, some outdoor workers alter their hours.
Randy Roberts, owner-operator of the Roof Doctors in Urbana, said that since most of their roofing jobs are at homes, they generally start at 6 or 7 a.m. "to be kind to the neighbors."
But in the extreme weather, courtesy to neighbors gets superseded by health concerns of employees.
"We've been starting at 5 a.m. and are off the roof by noon or 1. Our guys are pretty conditioned. When you work (outdoors) day in and day out, you build up a tolerance for the heat, but you can't be stupid about it."
"I wouldn't put a newbie on the job during this. It would kill them off," Roberts said.
Roberts said he and his workers take a garden hose to the roofs they're working on to hose down the shingles and themselves.
"You'd be amazed how that helps," he said of watering the shingles. "If the ambient temperature is 95 or 100, it's easily 120 to 130 on the roof."
Roberts said that besides knocking off early, he insists that his workers get off the roof frequently for Gatorade and water breaks and take a full hour for lunch.
"Or in this case, an hour-long breakfast."
Roberts said his wife shows up at work sites to make sure the workers have sunscreen and to make sure they are wearing shirts.
"The skin cancer thing is nothing to scoff at," Roberts said.
Save the trees
Meantime, Urbana Park District workers are just as concerned with keeping their newly planted trees alive.
"Everyone is coping with the same thing, but our situation is compounded because we had a mass planting of trees that we got through a grant and other trees that went into King Park ... because we removed a lot of trees for ash borer," said Randy Houser, grounds supervisor for the district.
"We had about 55 balled and burlapped trees go in this spring," Houser said. "We typically put in through donations, about 25 to 30. Above and beyond that which we always do, instantly we're dealing with far more than we're used to dealing with."
New trees need to be regularly watered for the first three years, Houser said, to put them "in a good position to fend for themselves."
"We have one fellow hitting about 120 trees in his rotation," he said, adding that can be accomplished in about seven working days, then he starts over. Flowering annuals are also on the list to be watered regularly, but grass is not.
"We don't water turf because that is sort of a luxury. It will go dormant, look awful for a while, and just come back. Other plant material won't," he said.
"The one bright spot is when the weather is like this, there is less mowing so we can get other things done that were off the list, like a lot of mulching, bed cleanup. Mainly we're getting mulch around the new trees and maintaining them."
At the University of Illinois, workers are mowing once a week only in irrigated areas of campus; about 30 of 800 acres on campus are irrigated, according to Andy Blacker, spokesman for UI Facilities & Services. They evaluate other areas to see what else needs to be mowed.
UI employees typically water trees that are two years or newer, but because of the heat and dry weather, they upped that to trees five years old or newer. And they've been watering some special specimen trees. Because they've been planting more native and drought-tolerant plants and flowers, employees usually don't have to water those perennials and instead usually focus on the annual beds.
"But in this extreme heat and drought, they've even watered some perennial beds which typically they don't water," Blacker said.
Staff writers Mary Schenk, Christine des Garennes and Tim Mitchell contributed to this story.