Infrastructure, agriculture hampered by harsh summer

BATON ROUGE — The extreme temperatures have taken a toll on the community in various ways.

There has already been a streak of 10 straight days in Baton Rouge with temperatures reaching 100 degrees or higher in early August. After a quick tease to Fall, the brutal & dangerous heat will make a comeback this week.

LDH reports 25 heat-related deaths in June and July

According to the Louisiana Department of Health, 25 people died because of heat-related causes in June and July. The previous total reported on August 4 was 16.

Twenty-two of the deaths were men; three were female. Data shows men are often overrepresented in heat deaths because they are more likely to work outdoors. The age breakdown among individuals is as follows:

  • 30 – 49: 7
  • 50 – 64: 6
  • 65+: 12

There have been 4,766 heat-related emergency department visits in Louisiana since April 1. From 2010 to 2020, there were an average of 2,700 emergency department visits annually, according to an Office of Public Health (OPH) report released in April.

Louisiana continues to monitor heat-related illness and heat-related emergency department visits using syndromic surveillance led by OPH’s Occupational Heat-Related Illness and Injury Program.

The deaths are not unique to just Louisiana. According to a report, 147 people have died in five counties in the U.S. because of the extreme heat. As of early August, 64 had died in Pima County, Arizona; 39 in Maricopa County, Arizona; 26 in Clark County, Nevada; 11 in Webb County, Texas; and seven in Harris County, Texas.

Effect on infrastructure

This summer, there have been a few incidents where roads have buckled, or asphalt has melted, causing traffic problems.

LSU Professor and Engineer Ayman Okeil, Ph.D., said roads buckling is a problem in other areas in the country.

“We have concrete roads here in the state and all over the country, and they are also suffering from the excessive heat,” he said. “They buckle because concrete is not as flexible as asphalt, so they expand, and then they push upwards.”

Okeil said a portion of the road near Burbank buckled recently.

“The same thing happens on everything,” he explained. “Any material has to expand, and if there is no room to expand, you start having these issues.

READ NOW: How the heat and dry conditions are forcing ants inside Louisiana homes

“Bridges, which is what I’ve worked on, are exposed to additional forces when the temperatures rise, and we take that into account in our design,” he added. “The design is within certain limits, and if you exceed those limits, you start getting more forces.”

Okeil said that the amount of days exposed to the heat is not an issue for infrastructure like bridges. The level of heat becomes a problem. He said the issues that may arise are not immediate dangers. It’s a long-term process.

“Our bridges are safe,” he safe. “They go through regular inspection and evaluations to make sure that they are safe. We worry about these things like do we need to change how we design new bridges to make them last the intended design life in light of the extreme temperatures we are seeing. That’s a long-term process.”

Effects on Agriculture

According to Mark Carriere, a county agent with the LSU Ag Center, the hot temperatures and lack of precipitation have slowed production for some essential staples in the area.

“Some of these later beans, especially the non-irrigated ones, you’re looking at a 40 to 60 percent reduction in the soybeans they’ll produce on that non-irrigated land,” Carriere said. “On irrigated land, they’re closer to average, but that’s affecting producers’ bottom lines because they have to pay to pump water onto those crops.

“On the sugar cane side, the sugarcane is a lot shorter than it normally is this time of year, and that’s due to the lack of moisture,” he added. “What that does is it increases the amount of acres that it takes to plant one acre of sugarcane because the stalks are shorter in length.”

Carriere said if rainfall totals don’t increase, there will be decreased yields in sugar produced and the tonnage for this coming year. Carriere said he found out Tuesday that the sugar mills have pushed back the start of sugar cane harvest season to give farmers more time to plant sugar cane.

He said the date was pushed back a week, but it could be two weeks later than initially expected.

Carriere represents West Baton Rouge, Iberville, and Pointe Coupee Parishes. He said Pointe Coupee is the largest sugarcane-producing parish in the state.

The hot temperatures and lack of rain have taken a toll on lawns throughout the state. Carriere advised people to water their lawns in the evening or early morning.

The combination has also been a unique occurrence.

“At this point, we’re praying for rain,” he stated. “Farmers are praying for rain to be able to make it through the remainder of the growing and production season. Unfortunately, our producers could follow the best management practices and plan as much as possible, but the one thing that we’re unable to predict and can not plan for is the weather. It has definitely been a season for the record books as far as temperature and drought.”

“I’ve been an extension account agent for 13 years now, and in my tenure with the AG Center, I can’t remember a summer that’s been this dry and as hot in a combination. So it’s different to previous years, at least since I’ve been working for the Ag Center.”

Carriere emphasized rain being key for the crops to thrive.

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