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‘Borderline dangerous’: For Boise’s outside workers, record heat leads to taxing summer

·8 min read

The stifling temperatures began in early June, and they have not let up since.

Through it all, workers throughout the Treasure Valley have hardly let up, either, even when their line of work means toiling outside in extreme heat and what can be unsafe conditions.

Record-breaking temperatures have been the norm in Boise and Idaho this summer, with the heat wave featuring blistering days and nights that hardly cool down. Before Saturday, when was the last time a daytime high didn’t hit at least 90? That would be June 16. The number of days in July that featured a nighttime low exceeding 70? That would be 19.

“Once you start working in this stuff, it really wears you down,” Jason Valentine, a foreman for TLC Landscape, told the Idaho Statesman.

Almost any heat statistic you choose this summer seems staggering. Back on June 2, temperatures in Boise missed a record by one degree, when it hit 96. The following day it was 103, breaking a record set in 2007 by five degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Between June 28 and July 6, temperatures topped 100 every day — tying the record of nine days in a row for triple-digit heat. It was 106 on July 6, the hottest it’s ever been on that date, according to the NWS.

Just this past week, it was 102 degrees on Monday and 100 on Tuesday. There were 20 days with highs in the 90s in June, and in July every single day surpassed 90, with 11 days over 100, according to the weather service. That streak was expected to end on the final day of the month, with highs Saturday in the upper 80s.

Valentine can remember just about all of these hot days. He remembers that in early July he sent one landscaper home when that worker exhibited signs of heat exhaustion: nausea, profuse sweating and vomiting.

“Once we saw there was gonna be triple digits, we started working really early” in the day, Valentine said.

TLC Landscape handles jobs all over the Treasure Valley, he said, and Valentine’s crews have been clocking in at 6 a.m. in order to finish their day before the worst afternoon heat.

Valentine said he constantly reminds his staff to stay hydrated and take frequent breaks.

“I haven’t seen it this hot since 2007 — I was fighting fire then,” he said.

Valentine worked for the U.S. Forest Service then, and in Boise, July 2007 was, at the time, the city’s hottest month ever, according to a climate report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That record still stands, according to Katy Branham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. But if the average temperature for July 2021 holds close to where it’s been, it will break the 2007 record, she said.

“I think the last couple days are the first days I’ve seen just upper 90s, and I’ve been happy,” Valentine said when temperatures dropped slightly.

“If you’re out here doing this physical labor in triple-digit weather, it definitely wears on you faster. It makes you discombobulated — you’re a little bit slower to react, to make decisions.”

When it’s really hot, Valentine said he sometimes will forget for a moment where he left a tool.

“It just feels like your brain is starting to boil a little bit,” he said.

Boise busker: ‘I’ve never had to deal with temperatures outside like this’

From February through November, Tanner Faris stands on 8th Street in downtown Boise at least three nights a week for three or four hours, playing music. On a recent Thursday, when the high was 98, he played guitar and had a tambourine tied to a foot, and had a drum he pounded with a pedal.

“I play if I can feel my fingers and there’s people on the street,” he told the Statesman.

This year is his fourth summer playing in Boise, and it’s been the hottest one for him so far.

“I’ve never had to deal with temperatures outside like this,” he said. “But I’ve got one baby and a kid on the way, so you do what you gotta do.”

In June, the average temperature — including nighttime lows — was 75.9 degrees, which tied the 2015 heat wave as the hottest June on record, according to National Weather Service data. The 30-year “normal” between 1981 and 2020, which NWS uses to measure average temperatures over time, is 67.6 degrees for June.

For people like Faris, a former English and math teacher at Centennial High School, that has meant little relief even as the day becomes night. He said that in the heat, he’s noticed most people don’t come out to the bars or restaurants on 8th Street until after 7 p.m. But this summer, that’s hardly meant much, with temps often still hovering around 90 at 9 p.m.

“It’s about 20 degrees hotter than it should be right now,” Faris said around 8 p.m. on July 15.

One evening in early July, his water bottle fell off the dolly he carries his instruments on, and he didn’t notice until he had arrived at his busking spot.

Singing without water “just kills your vocal cords,” said Faris, who is moving out of state at the end of the summer. The day he lost his bottle, “I just played until I was parched and went home … I have developed a high tolerance for standing in one place.”

Andrew (David Anthony Smith) reads from one of his mystery novels to Milo (Jeffrey C. Hawkins) in Great Lakes Theater’s production of “Sleuth.” Directed by Charlie Fee, the show is now at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
Andrew (David Anthony Smith) reads from one of his mystery novels to Milo (Jeffrey C. Hawkins) in Great Lakes Theater’s production of “Sleuth.” Directed by Charlie Fee, the show is now at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

Idaho Shakespeare Festival actors: ‘These are borderline dangerous conditions’

David Anthony Smith and Jeffrey C. Hawkins are veterans of the renowned Idaho Shakespeare Festival, having performed at the summertime shows in Boise over a span of more than two decades. But that doesn’t make this year’s heat at the amphitheater easier to take.

The two actors play leading roles in “Sleuth,” a thriller by Anthony Shaffer that opened this year’s festival on July 10. The high temperature that day exceeded 100 degrees. It cools down in the amphitheater by the Boise River once the sun sets, but that’s well after the play begins.

“When we both come off from Act One, we’re completely drenched,” Smith told the Statesman in a video interview. “I have to change my whole wardrobe, and even my socks.”

Smith, who plays the lead role in the show, is on the stage for the entirety of both acts. On opening night, it was 102 degrees, he said, and his costume includes a wool suit with a vest.

“It doesn’t help that we’re in wool, and it doesn’t help that Jeffrey has to put on a clown suit,” Smith said, adding that the cumulative effect of the heat — performing night after night — makes it more difficult to handle.

Hawkins told the Statesman that the play’s director, Charlie Fee, has taken safety precautions for the show and gives his actors permission to walk upstage for water if they need it.

“We’re not hiding the fact that that is a modern, sports drink bottle of water,” Hawkins said. “Look, this is what we’re doing and these are borderline dangerous conditions. It’s one thing to just sit in the sun. It’s another thing to move around in the sun. It’s another thing to be in costumes in the sun. It’s another thing to be in costumes, wearing wool, under stage lights. It’s fairly extreme.”

Most shows start at 8 p.m., when the sun is mostly behind the hillside and not directly on the performers, Smith said. But on Sundays, the show starts an hour early, and sunlight hits the stage for the first 30 minutes.

Despite the obstacles, both actors said they have developed techniques to stave off heat-related problems.

“I have to chug and chug and chug and chug, just to stay even,” Hawkins said, referring to how much water he drinks before and during performances. He said crews sometimes keep ice buckets backstage for actors to dip their feet in, and costume designers are always looking for ways to make winter coats, hats and other garments as thin as possible, while still looking like the real thing.

Smith said that during intermission, he puts an ice pack around his neck.

“We still love outdoor theater, and audiences, I think, like outdoor theater,” Hawkins said. “As the climate changes and as the world changes, we’re trying to change with it. Until we can get that indoor theater built, we’re going to be out there at the amphitheater.”

The last performance of “Sleuth” is Sunday. “The Tempest” opens on Aug. 12, and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)“ opens on Sept. 10.

“Don’t let the heat keep you from going out there,” Smith said. “You won’t be uncomfortable. … I think the reward is much greater than being a little hot for about half an hour.”

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