Chattanoogans seek relief during June heat wave

Jets of cool air greet visitors as they step through the doors at the Community Kitchen's building on East 11th Street in Chattanooga.

Outside, people linger on the sidewalk, drinking water or resting under the shade of tall trees. In the organization's day center, visitors can pick up mail, take a shower, clean laundry or meet with case managers.

On Thursday afternoon, volunteers put up decorations in anticipation of a Juneteenth celebration Friday.

Nearby, Ralph Curtis sits at a table with his 7-month-old dog, Hooch, at his feet. He and his wife, Jessica, who is pregnant and due in October, were among the visitors taking refuge from the sun Thursday.

(READ MORE: Tempers run hot at meeting over alleged violations by bar near scene of Chattanooga's June 5 shooting)

Although they're hoping to move into permanent housing soon, Ralph said, the couple lives in a wooden shack, where they have to prop the door open at night to improve ventilation.

"If it's 97 degrees out here, it's 110 in that shack," Jessica said.

Chattanoogans have seen temperatures enter the mid- to upper- 90s this week, which is approximately 10 degrees hotter than normal, according to the National Weather Service in Morristown. That's still lower, however, than Chattanooga's highest recorded temperature of 107 degrees on June 30 and July 1, 2012.

"It's oppressive out there," Trish King, the Community Kitchen's volunteer and church relations coordinator, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press by phone.

The Community Kitchen has been collecting bottles of sunscreen and putting up signs to encourage people to step inside and hydrate.

An organization that provides food and supportive services to Chattanooga's homeless, the Community Kitchen hands out water and offers free lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On Tuesday, King said, workers served 222 meals, the kitchen's highest number in a long time.

(READ MORE: National Cornbread Festival launches support campaign for former, current South Pittsburg High School players killed in crash)

The Salvation Army runs a day center of its own on McCallie Avenue in Chattanooga, where Program Director Keyta Young said workers are handing out water and frozen pops. This week, the organization is seeing some new faces at the center, Young said by phone, where Salvation Army officials have seen a bump in visitation because of the high temperatures.

Visitors are often homeless, between jobs or they may simply live in a place without air conditioning. Through a program called Beat the Heat, the Salvation Army is asking the public for donations of box fans, which Young said will go to people who have found shelter but don't have access to a reliable cooling system.

Jeremy Buckles, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, said in a phone interview the humidity has been a major factor behind the region's temperature spike, resulting in heat indexes in the triple digits for the past few days. Those are dangerous levels and can result in heat-related illnesses or fatalities.

Buckles urged people to drink water, apply sunscreen regularly and avoid spending time outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. People should also dress in light-colored or lightweight clothing and take frequent breaks in the shade or in an air-conditioned environment when working outside.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga is seeing record-breaking heat in June. Here's how to stay safe in hot weather)

"Also, we just want to remind people, never, ever, ever leave kids, pets or anyone unattended in a vehicle," he said. "Vehicles heat up very quickly - even in just a few minutes, they can heat up well above 100 degrees."

Erlanger Health System has seen a modest increase in the number of patients arriving at the emergency department with heat-related illnesses, rising from one last week to five this week. A spokesperson said those numbers are typical for this time of year.

Over the next week, Buckles said, there's good news and bad news. On Friday night, a cold front will move through the area, which will lower the humidity. Although temperatures will still be around 90 degrees over the weekend, Buckles said, it will feel cooler.

"Instead of 90 and feeling like 100, it will be 90, and it will feel like 90," Buckles said. "So it's definitely an improvement."

Next week, however, the moisture will gradually return and temperatures will again climb into the upper 90s.

"We're going to get a break this weekend, but we're going right back into the dangerous, excessive heat by the middle of next week," he said.

These higher than normal temperatures could persist into late June or early July, Buckles said.

Chattanoogans may, however, be able to find a source of relief underground.

Morgan Lee, public relations coordinator for Ruby Falls, said by phone Thursday she's seen people on social media mentioning that the heat has caused them to consider a trip to the attraction, which is a series of subterranean waterfalls inside Lookout Mountain.

Ruby Falls stays at 60 degrees year-round, she said, and as summer nears, organizers are expecting an uptick in visitors.

"You can always count on that 60 degrees down there, and we have definitely seen people banking on that," Lee said.

Contact David Floyd at or at 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.