published Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Working with penguins is cool, especially when it's 100 outside

A gentoo penguin looks around as Jennifer Taylor works in the penguin exhibit Tuesday at the Tennessee Aquarium.
A gentoo penguin looks around as Jennifer Taylor works in the penguin exhibit Tuesday at the Tennessee Aquarium.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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When temperatures start hitting 100 degrees, penguin keeper Jennifer Taylor always is happy to take a two-hour vacation to a sub-Antarctic climate.

Taylor feeds and cares for penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium several times a week. The habitat, kept at a cool 42 degrees to emulate the macaroni and gentoo penguins' natural climate, sometimes can get a bit chilly.

That chill was welcome Tuesday, the hottest day of the year so far, as temperatures set the Aug. 2 record at 100 degrees, and has been welcome for most all of the summer.

This year has been particularly warm, according to WRCB-TV Meteorologist Nick Austin. August is projected to be just as unusually hot, and with the possibility of 100 degree temperatures, today could be the hottest Aug. 3 of all time.

That news gives Taylor some added appreciation for her job.

"It feels very good to come in," Taylor said, tossing fish to the penguins in her knee-high boots and light jacket. "It's nice, cool work. And you get to be around penguins, which is always fun."

But for some low-temperature workers, the heat adds unique challenges.

"It's horrible when you come out here," Atlantic Distributors Inc. freezer manager Chad Adkins said Tuesday.

Adkins was dressed from head to toe in winter gear as he stood outside the zero-degree freezer where he spends most of his day. To tolerate the freezing cold, he has to don a winter hat, jacket, sweat shirt, ski pants and gloves, making his excursions into the southern heat all the more difficult.

But when he does venture out from his cold, 20,000-square-foot cave full of frozen food, Adkins has to do his best not to sweat. Wet clothes can freeze on his skin quickly when temperatures drop nearly 100 degrees.

At the end of the day, Adkins needs to take time to warm up. It's too difficult to jump right into the summer warmth, so he restores feeling to his fingers and toes in the balmy 38-degree freezer attached to the cold storage area.

Not all of Chattanooga's cold jobs require the fortitude of ice road truckers. Gary Curry, an Ohio native and manager of the meat department at the Cloud Springs Road Costco, feels right at home in his 55-degree meat preparation area.

"I love it," Curry said, looking out the large glass windows at Costco's customers.

Curry spends about seven hours each day chilling out in the cooler. He ventures out to the North Georgia warmth a few hours each day for tasks such as price sticker adjustments, and always enjoys the return to more northern temperatures.

On hot days like Tuesday and today, Curry smiles as he looks out at the sweaty customers filling the store.

"On Saturday you can just see the main aisle fill up," he said. "I'm glad I'm not out there."

MORE: Heat is really on for some workers

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