HARRISONBURG — As the Virginia Department of Emergency Management warns of extreme heat in the coming days, various Harrisonburg and Rockingham County groups are working to keep populations cool.
Extreme heat is defined as temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit paired with high humidity over several days, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Temperatures in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County are expected to reach “dangerous” levels of around 95 degrees Fahrenheit along with high humidity until the weekend, according to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
Extreme heat is the most dangerous weather-related hazard, claiming the lives of over 600 people every year, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The city of Harrisonburg issued a press release Tuesday recommending residents watch for signs of illness due to heat — including dizziness, headache, nausea, among others. If symptoms do not improve upon moving to a cooler area, residents are encouraged to call emergency services.
During the heat wave, residents are also encouraged to regularly check on neighbors who do not have air conditioning.
Every year, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Department of Social Services offers economic support to families who cannot afford cooling items and/or the electricity needed through the Cooling Assistance program, said Carolyn Harlow, a benefit program supervisor at the department.
Households eligible for the program must contain at least one person 60 or older, younger than 6, a person with a disability, or a veteran who is designated 100% disabled by the Department of Veteran Affairs.
The program is federally funded and follows national guidelines to provide support to anywhere between 1,000 to 1,500 applicants every year, Harlow said.
Applications can be submitted in person at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham office at 110 N. Mason St. in Harrisonburg, online at https://commonhelp.virginia.gov/access/ or by phone at (855) 635-4370.
The heat wave also presents a challenge to dairy producers.
“The most important thing is [that cows] have fresh water in front of them all the time,” said Jeremy Daubert, a dairy agent for the Rockingham County Extension office.
Dairy cows often produce less milk during the summer months due to the stress from the heat, he said.
“The percents are different every year, but it could be 5 to 10% less production over the summer due to the stress,” Daubert said.
Lareth May, the president of the Rockingham County Farm Bureau, agreed with Daubert about the difficulty heat waves pose to agriculture workers.
Keeping animals cool in the summer is a “million-dollar question,” he said.
Farmers in the area have dealt with similar temperature difficulties in the past, May said.
In a past heat wave, May lost 600 of his 12,000 birds in one day on his farm due to the high heat and humidity.
“That’s a significant loss,” he said. “They were just dropping like flies.”
And over the next few days, May plans to make sure his poultry stay cool by spraying them with water about every hour, he said.
“When you got days like that, you don’t really have the option to staying inside,” May said. “You have to go outside and take care of your livestock and poultry.”