In this photo provided by Charlie Wilson, a herd of Red Angus cattle stay close to a watering hole at the Wilson ranch Wednesday, June 27, 2012, near Lakeside, Neb. Across the country, more than 900 heat records have been broken in the past week. If the forecasts hold, an intense heat wave gripping the center and western portion of the country could mean more will fall. (AP Photo/Courtesy Charlie Wilson)
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The sweltering temperatures the Nebraska Panhandle have endured for several [auth] days are spreading eastward across the state and into Iowa.
The National Weather Service issued heat warnings and advisories for southeast Nebraska and much of Iowa Wednesday as temperatures neared 100.
At least 17 record high temperatures have been set in Western Nebraska over the past week, and nationwide, more than 900 records were broken as part of the same heat wave.
In the Panhandle, people in Sidney and Scottsbluff were looking forward to some mild relief with temperatures in the 80s and 90s after several days above 100.
But the heat takes a toll on people who work outside like ranchers, farmers and construction workers. In addition to drinking plenty of fluids and taking breaks more often, many people working outdoor jobs are being encouraged to start their days early so they can take a longer break during the hottest part of the day.
Nebraska ranchers are working to make sure their cattle and ranch hands have enough water to stay cool and that there is enough grass or hay for the cattle to eat.
Jaclyn Wilson-Demel said most of the time the heat is bearable because there isn’t much humidity in the Nebraska Panhandle. Residents of eastern Nebraska and Iowa won’t be as fortunate because high humidity will combine with the heat to make it feel as if it’s 105 degrees or warmer.
Wilson-Demel said dealing with the heat is a little easier on her family’s ranch northeast of Lakeside, Neb., because there are a couple lakes cattle can wade into to cool off.
But Wilson-Demel said her ranch already had to sell off its yearling cattle about three months ahead of schedule to ensure there will be enough grass available to feed the rest.
Wilson-Demel said she thinks that sometimes ranchers suffer more in the heat than the cattle do and it can be easy to become overheated while crossing the ranch on an ATV.
“I’ll stop at a windmill or lake and go for a swim when it’s hot just to cool off,” Wilson-Demel said. Her ranch, where temperatures hit 108 Tuesday, is remote enough that she says people don’t seem to mind someone swimming in a horse tank.
About 100 miles east of Wilson-Demel’s ranch, Dave Hamilton has been trying to start work an hour or two early on the hottest days, so he can take a two-hour lunch break and avoid the hottest part of the day.
“We’re just coping with it as best we can,” said Hamilton, who raises cattle north of Thedford, Neb., where temperatures reached 108 degrees Tuesday.
At Crossroads Coop in Sidney, Neb., workers unloading wheat trucks were being rotated often because of the heat.
Virg Schumacher said it’s hard to keep workers going all day in the heat.
Schumacher said he cannot remember any wheat harvest this early or this hot in his 36 years with the coop.
The warm weather this spring helped Nebraska’s wheat crop mature a couple weeks earlier than normal. So Keith Rexroth is in the middle of harvesting wheat near Sidney, Neb., already.
Rexroth said one of the worst parts about dealing with record 111-degree temperatures near Sidney on Tuesday was the feeling of the heat hitting his body as he leaves an air-conditioned environment.
“It’ll give you an instant headache,” Rexroth said.
Because of the heat, Rexroth is making sure he and his workers are drinking plenty of water and rotating the different duties on his harvest crew. Rexroth’s combine is air-conditioned, but the grain truck is not.
“The short straw is the truck,” he said.