Utahns run to the water to escape record heat
They marched down the dusty path lined with yellow grass that begged for a breeze to bend it. Even before noon, even in the shade of a tree, temperatures already hovered near triple-digits.
These Utahns had lifted self-imposed house arrests, chained to only the places where a ceiling fan or an ineffective window unit could reach, because they needed something more.
Then, as a group of dogs splashed through Parleys Creek in Parleys Nature Park and shook water off their coats in the Sunday morning sunshine, a bit of cool air escaped from a darkened culvert. Tinny screams echoed down the corrugated sides until finally the tube, like a shaken beer can, spewed out white foam, and a half-dozen wet humans toppled over each other into the cold pool.
"It's just like a water slide," said Maci Taylor, of Sugar House.
"Yeah," said her friend, Amanda Reutlinger. "Like the best water slide ever."
Salt Lake City International Airport had never reached 105 degrees in June. That is, until Friday. It happened again Saturday. Forecasters projected Sunday to top out at 106, but the high fell 3 degrees short of that.
With records toppling and a heat wave in full swing, Tabitha Hamill had had enough. And she, like so many others around the state this week, headed to water.
They've made their way, en masse, to reservoirs and lakes. They've found rope swings and turned old bridges into diving platforms.
Ryan Richards, who manages Barefoot Tubing, has been on the phone a lot more of late. "Any time it gets really hot, our business goes through the roof," said Richards, whose company puts a few hundred tubers into the Weber River every weekend of the summer.
Even something as simple as the small pool at the bottom of a culvert has become a major attraction.
Cathy Brinton, of Midvale, laughed and tossed a tennis ball into the deeper water for her dogs. Hershey, the black lab, paddled toward it. But when the black lab Licky didn't follow, Brinton led the way, splashing into the cold water.
"I'm not afraid, as you can see, to get down in," she said. "Only the walk back is gonna be hard."
A little boy leaped into the cold pool. A man tossed a hesitant lap dog in, too.
And as Adam Dyet waded through the pool with his 3-year-old daughter, Annabelle, in tow, only their dog Cash seemed to fear jumping in.
Hamill and her friends, meanwhile, had reached their breaking points.
"Somewhere around 104," Taylor said.
Hamill took her dog to the nature park next to Tanner Park last year and had seen the kids piling out of the culvert. Summer ended before she got a chance to do it herself. So with the mercury stuck above 100 Saturday, she called her friends.
"Do you want to shoot the tube?" she asked, and they all said yes.
"It was awesome," Hamill said, after collecting a flip flop lost on her maiden trip.
Then she and her friends climbed their way back up the culvert under Interstate 215. They dammed up the water with two old street signs, left behind by another group for that very purpose. Then they waited in the dark for the signs to part, and for their backs to feel that rare rush of cold in the summer heat.
More records fall
The continuing heat wave in Utah set eight new temperature records Sunday and was being blamed for road damage in some areas. High temperature records were set at the Cedar City airport (101, compared to the old record of 100); Kanab (104 vs. 103) and Milford (104 vs. 102). Even more impressive were very warm overnight temperatures. At the Salt Lake City International Airport, the overnight low was 80 degrees, which broke the record for the month of June 78 degrees set in 2001. Escalante had a record high overnight low of 76, shattering the previous record of 66.
According to the Utah Department of Transportation, the heat damaged the eastbound left lane of Interstate 215 near 3400 South, which shut down the lane Sunday afternoon. The 600 North onramp to southbound Interstate 15 also was damaged.
The extended forecast calls for a gradual cooling statewide after the July 4 holiday, with a predicted high of 92 degrees in Salt Lake City by next Sunday.