By RANDALL DICKERSON
NASHVILLE — Summer heat has taken an early grip on Tennessee and forecasters don’t foresee it loosening anytime soon. That means steamy weather at two large outdoor music festivals under way and another set to begin.
Already, the heat has contributed to two deaths in West Tennessee.
In Memphis, authorities say a 75-year-old woman with underlying health issues was found dead Monday in her home. The victim has a working air conditioner, but was using only a fan. In Tipton County, a man who was an amputee fell getting out of his van on Monday and was found lying in his driveway. He was taken to a hospital, but died.
High temperature records have been broken across the state since June arrived as a strong high pressure ridge sits above the Southeast in the upper atmosphere, blocking any approach by cold fronts.
“It’s not out of the ordinary for summer, but a little unusual this early,” said Jason Wright, a forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Nashville.
Records show that high temperatures have been running about 10 degrees above normal readings of around 83 for early June.
Nashville set a new daily high temperature record on Sunday when the thermometer reached 97 degrees.
Music fans will be feeling the heat with 80,000 general admission tickets being sold for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival that began Thursday on a 700-acre farm near Manchester, about 60 miles southeast of Nashville. In downtown Nashville, the CMA Music Fest draws 50,000 to 60,000 country music fans each night to LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans. Thousands of fans spend the days visiting tourist spots in the city and looking for country music stars. In Chattanooga, the Riverbend Festival begins Friday and 600,000 people are expected over nine days
Alberta Kelly of New Brunswick, Canada, in Nashville to attend her first CMA Festival, said it’s been raining at her home for much of the last two months. After arriving in Nashville, she went shopping for sunglasses.
“I wasn’t prepared for this at all. (The heat) hit me pretty hard when I got off the plane,” she said. “I also got sunburned.”
Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesman Jerry Jones was watching from a medical tent at the CMA festival on Thursday and said about 50 people had been treated Wednesday — about half of them for heat-related conditions. Three were taken to the hospital by ambulance.
“Some had heat exhaustion or needed hydration,” said of the people who were treated at the site.
Rick Farman, one of the founders of Bonnaroo and a partner of Superfly Presents, watched music fans stream onto the site Thursday and said safety precautions were in place.
It began with messaging attendees about how what to wear, drink and prepare for.
“Onsite, we have free water and many locations and have added a bunch of new locations this year. We have more free water than we’ve ever had and we’ve put up shade structures,” Farman said. “The medical tents throughout the property are air-conditioned and have the availability to give fluids intravenously.”
Susan Whitaker, Tennessee commissioner of tourist development, said it is usually hot during both festivals.
“For the most part, it hasn’t prevented anyone from coming back. The organizers are very careful and don’t want anything negative coming out. The artists are concerned too. I’m sure every precaution is taken.”
Early summer weather has been toughest on West Tennessee, which is just beginning to recover from serious spring flooding.
So far in June, there have been four new daily heat records set — the highest being 99 on both Saturday and Sunday.
“This is the kind of heat and kind of pattern you usually see in July and August,” said Chris Duke, a forecaster with NWS in Memphis, but Duke recalled a similar hot stretch last June.
DeAndre Stockings, of Memphis, works in a warehouse where the only air conditioning is in the break room, but he was lucky to be indoors on Wednesday. He was waiting outside a courtroom, where he was giving support to a relative standing trial.
“The heat is ridiculous,” Stockings said. “It’s hot and it’s not even summertime.”
Stockings, who describes himself as more of a fall and wintertime guy, makes sure to drink plenty of water at work.
“I keep a water cooler with me all the time, a big jug,” Stockings said.
No region of the state is spared.
Chattanooga cooked at 98 degrees on Sunday — two degrees hotter than the date’s previous high temperature record set in 1955.
Jackson hit 98 on Tuesday for a new record, Knoxville tied its record of 96 on Sunday and the Tri-Cities set a new date record of 91 degrees on June 2.
In addition, the heat dome is contributing to deteriorating air quality. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Health issued air quality alerts on Wednesday for the Nashville and Chattanooga metro areas, the region around Knoxville and the Tri-Cities area in northeastern Tennessee.
No relief is in sight, say forecasters.
The same weather pattern is expected to last well into next week with only an outside chance of rain and that won’t develop until mid-week, forecasters say.
“The high parked on top of us is forecast to wobble a little bit, maybe move a bit to the east,” Duke said. “If that happens, we could get some Gulf moisture and have put a 20 percent chance of thundershowers into the forecast.”
Associated Press reporters Joe Edwards in Nashville and Adrian Sainz in Memphis contributed to this report.