Valley residents ride out weekend heat wave

  • Smith College student Eleanor Donaher, enjoys a respite from the summer heatwave along the Mill River in Northampton on Saturday, July 20, 2019. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Marco Ortiz plays in the shade along the Mill River with Santalee Negron and Jordan Negron on Saturday, July 20, 2019. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Students Chase Ryan-Embry and Haden Ryan-Embry share an inner tube as they float along the Mill River in Northampton on Saturday. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Lt. David Unaitis of the Massachusetts Environmental Police walks along the Oxbow Marina in Northampton, Saturday. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2019 9:57:31 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As bitterly cold as New England can get during the winter, the same kind of complaints can be heard about long days of muggy, oppressive heat in the summer. Nevertheless, Pioneer Valley residents — New Englanders, after all — have soldiered on through such spells before.

This particular weekend was a model example of a Valley heat wave, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees Saturday and 95 degrees Sunday. Even more unpleasant, the region’s heat index — a measurement including humidity to represent how hot it feels outside — approached 110 degrees in Northampton, and nearly that in Amherst.

Though a light breeze could be felt in some areas Saturday afternoon, forecasts were correct in anticipating stifling high temperatures across the region.

But for some, including Nicole DeVona, 48, of Coventry, Rhode Island, and Peter Drevin, 59, of Gilford, New Hampshire, the heat was not a good enough reason to stop having fun.

Under the shade of the Calvin Theatre awning on King Street, DeVona and Drevin, equipped with personal battery-powered fans, lounged in lawn chairs patiently waiting for the doors to open to a Lord Huron concert that had been moved from Holyoke’s Mountain Park because of the heat.

“I never remembered summers quite this intense when I was growing up,” Drevin said. “Now they seem to be much more humid — and it’s a long stretch, not just one or two days.”

Both Drevin and DeVona were unequivocal in their conviction that the intense heat was brought on by the effects of climate change.

“Absolutely, I have no doubt,” DeVona said of the relationship between climate change and extreme weather.

Both were in good spirits, enjoying each another’s company as they read magazines and watched as people and cars came by.

“It’s gross [outside]. That’s why I’m sitting here, so I don’t get all soupy before the show,” DeVona said.

As a precautionary measure to assist those without cool indoor places during the heatwave, many cities and towns across the county opened designated cooling centers to serve as a reprieve from the weather.

At Forbes Library, one of Northampton’s designated cooling centers, staff members were handing out bottles of water.

One person, Denise Pope, 52, of Northampton, came to the cooling center not because she didn’t have air conditioning, but because she didn’t want to be stuck inside at home during the heat. For her, the library was a good spot to relax and get some writing done, she said.

“I did walk here, which maybe was not the smartest idea,” she joked.

Just a short trip north, at Musante Beach in Leeds, some other residents decided to confront the heat by staying outside — though near a body of water, of course.

Loretta Patton, 62, and her husband, Jon Patton, 60, both from Leeds, said they hadn’t been to Musante Beach since they were children — though the water was much shallower than they remember.

“We’re outdoor people, so we don’t want to stay inside with air conditioning all of the time,” Loretta Patton said.

Boating safety

For a lot of people, however, just sitting by the water on a sweltering day wasn’t enough. And for those with access to a boat, a clear day is as good of a reason as any to take a ride on the Connecticut River.

And just as there are laws of the land, there are also rules to be followed on the water. Lt. David Unaitis of the Massachusetts Environmental Police was stationed Saturday at the Oxbow Marina in Northampton, where he was tasked with enforcing boating safety on the river, among other responsibilities.

As the supervisor for 31 cities and towns in Franklin and Hampshire counties, Unaitis said he also enforces laws at state parks and other places to protect natural resources and ensure safety.

So far, the summer has been pretty normal in terms of recreational activity on the river, he said, adding that the environmental police don’t arrest many people.

This is because the logistics of towing someone’s boat from the water are difficult, he said. Police normally give out verbal warnings or fines through citations, though they will arrest someone if they’re drunk or it’s otherwise absolutely necessary.

Unaitis said that since a boating license is not required for adults to operate a vessel on water in the state, the police try to use any opportunity they can to instead educate people about boating laws.

“At the end of a weekend, we’re just making sure nobody gets hurt or killed out here,” he said. “Voluntary compliance … and if we can do that through enforcement and education, that’s great.”

Unaitis, who grew up in the area and has always enjoyed the outdoors, said he wasn’t sure whether the heat wave would bring more people to the marina. People, he said, would probably either use the extreme weather as an excuse to binge-watch television or go out on the water.

“I’d probably do the former,” he said with a smile.

As evening came on Saturday, the heat refused to let up. In fact, the National Weather Service observation point closest to Hampshire County — in Hartford, Conn. — posted a record overnight low of 77 degrees.

“Not only are we so hot and humid during the day, we didn’t get a chance to recover last night,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Bryce Williams on Sunday.

Luckily, Williams added, the region is set for a significant cooldown this week, with highs in the high 70s and low 80s throughout the week.

“It’ll be a huge relief the next couple days,” Williams said.

Dusty Christensen contributed reporting for this story.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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