August 25, 2023 7:00am

Our long hot scorching summer

Power Poll Palm Beach influencers are boiling with concern over South Florida's record summer heat

Photo of Joe Capozzi
By Joe Capozzi
Palm Beach, FL Correspondent
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It’s been a scorching summer for the record books in South Florida, and Power Poll Palm Beach influencers are worried it won’t be the last.

We at Power Poll Palm Beach thought the searing temperatures might make for a cool little summer survey, with whimsical questions about favorite ways to beat the heat.

Some influencers had a little fun with their answers, but there was no mistaking the concern of most participants about the successive days with triple-digit heat indexes that at times topped 114 degrees.

“I am a professional gardener. This summer so far I have had serious heat illness at least three times where I was gasping for breath, soaked in sweat, and thinking of calling the EMTs,’’ said Joanne Davis, former Palm Beach County representative for the environmental-advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida.

“Fortunately, I can go inside one of my client's homes and cool off, but it is a scary feeling to be heat exhausted and nearly unable to move,’’ she said. “It comes on so quickly you're down on the ground before you realize how bad it is. Scary stuff.’’

And with the rising Sunshine State thermometer coming at a time when hurricanes are brewing and wildfires are ravaging places like Canada and Hawaii, many answers inevitably draw connections with politics and climate change.

“As someone who works on climate vulnerability in Palm Beach County, I can tell you our modeling shows that the amount of excessive heat and record days we had this summer is not going to diminish and we have to be prepared for it,’’ said Erin Deady, an environmental lawyer.

Ninety percent of those who responded said it has been the hottest summer they’ve ever experienced. Only 9 percent said it was not.

“I have never seen or experienced anything as oppressive as this summer. When it’s too hot to play golf, it’s too hot,’’ said Steve Mathison, chairman of PGA Corridor Association in Palm Beach Gardens.

Meanwhile, 89 percent expressed some level of concern that the scorching heat we experienced this summer is the new summertime norm in South Florida, with 53 percent saying they’re “very concerned” and 36 percent “somewhat concerned.’’

“In Florida, we are in crisis with everything that is happening. Climate change is near the top of the list. I fear that each summer will be hotter than the last,’’ said retired prosecutor Polly McFadden.

“We have been warned about global warming for many years, but those in power have chosen to prioritize their own personal wealth over the health of our planet and all who live here,’’ said Emmy Kenny, a West Palm beach artist and activist.

“This summer, I worked at a summer camp where one camper had such a severe heat stroke they had a seizure,’’ she said. “Those who cannot afford things like air conditioning or a vacation to escape the heat are suffering the most.’’

Palm Beach County is often associated with wealth, but 44 percent of the county’s households were struggling to make ends meet, according to a 2021 report by the United Way of Palm Beach County. Many of those households struggle to pay for electricity – and air-conditioning.

And nearly 2,000 people are homeless, with many living on the streets.

“Prolonged heat (is) dangerous (and) deadly for (the) homeless and folks unable to afford the means to keep themselves cool. Cooling stations needed at least!!!!’’ said homeless advocate Randy Lewis of South Florida Sanctuary.

It’s not just South Florida that’s feeling the heat.

“I spent the summer in Europe, Alaska, Canada, and everywhere I went the locals all said it was the hottest summer they could remember. Many commented that it was unusually dry, that rivers and crops were impacted, and that weather systems were bizarre,’’ said Robert Watson, Distinguished Professor of American History at Lynn University in Boca Raton.

“Hundreds of fires burned in Canada, massive fires raged in Greece and Italy, and a deadly fire devastated Maui. Yet, (former President Donald) Trump claims climate change is ‘fake,’ a ‘hoax,’ and propaganda from China, and Republicans listen to him rather than the thousands of scientists studying the issue.’’

Sid Dinerstein, former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, didn’t sound worried about the heat.

“My Jupiter senior softball program has not canceled a single game due to heat. The ‘new normal’ is the same as the ‘old normal’ and we all have decades of silly predictions to prove it,’’ he said. “We're blessed to live here in South Florida. Crack open a cold diet soda. Hit the links/courts/ballfields and suck it up, buttercup. Life is good.’’

Life hasn't been good for everybody affected by the summer heat.

“This hot-spell is getting dangerous,’’ said West Palm Beach attorney Guy Icangelo. “If weather trends continue, it will be the heat and an extended active hurricane season. If this prolonged heat and high ocean water temperatures continues, I wouldn't be surprised to see more late season hurricanes in the near future, maybe pushing into December and January.’’

Perhaps no surprise, staying inside an air-conditioned room was by far the most popular mode of relief for the heat for influencers, with 80 percent preferring the chill of the AC. The next most popular cool-down practice was jumping in a swimming pool, 9 percent.

“Most summers you get a break here and there, but this one has been consistently hot for a long time,’’ said Eric Hopkins, Senior Vice President for Hundley Farms.

When it comes to chilly summer snacks, a majority of influencers – 67 percent – were happy with a glass of ice water. Eight percent preferred munching on a slice of watermelon while another 4 percent chose an ice cream bar and a cold brew, respectively.

And the air-conditioning repairman ranked first among what influencers consider the most important summertime profession, at 41 percent. The next most popular profession: A medical professional (EMT, doctors and nurses) at 33 percent while police officers ranked a distant third at 6 percent, just ahead of firefighters (5 percent).

“Most important profession this summer: solar panel installers,’’ said Raphael Clemente, Executive Director of the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority. “We need to slash carbon emissions, and home solar is a great way to do that. I’ve had solar on my roof for 5 years and I had virtually zero need from energy from the grid.’’

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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