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Morning Call: Oppressive heat takes toll on the Lehigh Valley, though not so much on Bethlehem’s Blueberry Festival

July 23rd, 2019 |

Written by Ashley Stalnecker and Christina Tatu for The Morning Call

At Bethlehem’s historic Burnside Plantation men wore wide-brimmed hats and women carried parasols as they strolled the grounds, but they weren’t trying to re-create the 18th century atmosphere.

Visitors to the farm — which is hosting the 32nd annual Blueberry Festival this weekend — were doing whatever they could to beat the heat on Saturday.

“Thank God for hats and umbrellas,” said Rosemarie Pesci, of Stroud Township, as she battled the temperature, which reached 95 Saturday afternoon — 6 degrees off the record set in 1980.

Throughout the Lehigh Valley, people sought relief in shade, water and air conditioning, as the soaring temperature mixed with high humidity to form a dangerous heat index of 105 to 110 degrees. While the weather dissuaded some from going outside, it seemed to buoy others, who ventured out to shop, swim and eat blueberries.

Volunteers at the two-day Blueberry Festival off Schoenersville Road were ready for those weather-hearty folks, setting up “misters,” or fans situated in front of buckets of water, to create cooling stations. And just in case, they passed out complimentary tubes of sunscreen from Lehigh Valley Health Network.

The festival — as well as the high heat index — will continue from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Victoria Bray , walks in the Blueberry Festival with her children Sydney, 9, Rylie, 10 and Michael, 6, all from Strausstown, Berks County. “We tried to come early and came prepared,” she said.

The only thing canceled because of the heat was the festival’s petting zoo, said Jennifer Gross, development coordinator for Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites. But a “pet parade” is still scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, where guests can dress up their animal companions in costumes for a march around the grounds and a chance to win a prize.

Bill Brogan, who has visited the festival every year for the past five years, said, “They’ve all been hot, but this is the hottest.”

His wife, Patty, came prepared, carrying a backpack of frozen water wrapped in aluminum foil, and sunscreen.

Despite the heat, the Brogans, who live in Allentown, said they wouldn’t miss their annual outing with friends, which includes a ritual of getting one of each dessert: blueberry pie, blueberry coffeecake and blueberry ice cream.

A new best-seller this year was blueberry soda, which Emily Buck, director of visitor experience for Historic Bethlehem, was stocking in buckets of ice in the “Blueberry Store” shortly after the festival opened Saturday morning. The store is also new and features blueberry-themed items like soaps and live blueberry plants.


While Saturday was hot, it was also clear and sunny — perfect pool weather. A chance for a dip may be limited Sunday, when thunderstorms could accompany the heat.

Rhonda Johnson, of Bethlehem, keeps cool with a book in Clearview Pool in Bethlehem.
Rhonda Johnson, of Bethlehem, keeps cool with a book in Clearview Pool in Bethlehem.

A few miles from the Burnside Plantation, the swimming pool at Clearview Park in Bethlehem opened more than an hour early Saturday to offer respite for those weary of the heat.

“It’s bad,” said Bethlehem resident Vanessa Perez, as she cooled off in the shallow end with her children, twins Leslie and Katherine, both 3; and Leilani, 7.

“It’s very nice,” in the pool, though, Perez said. “I’d rather be here than at the beach where it’s muggy.”

Lifeguard David Strohl said that by the end of the day Friday, about 200 people had cooled off at Clearview Pool. He expected numbers to be similar Saturday.

In neighboring Easton, the two city pools closed to all but those with memberships Saturday afternoon, after filling to capacity. Those who needed to cool off could still find relief under one of the fire hydrants the city opened.

Rhonda Johnson beat the rush to Clearview, staking out a spot in the shallow end, where she was reading a book in relative peace before lunchtime.

“Standing in here, it’s not hot at all,” she said.

That’s not what people without air conditioning were saying in south Bethlehem and Fountain Hill, where PPL reported 2,100 customers without power Saturday afternoon.

For some, the heat was more than uncomfortable. It was dangerous. Emily Greene, a spokeswoman with Lehigh Valley Health Network, said the hospital was treating several people for heat exhaustion and that some required intravenous fluids.

“In some cases they have been outside too long, not taking in enough fluids,” she said.

Sunday could pose more of a threat, said Jonathan O’Brien, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey. The cumulative heat stress will be at its highest because overnight lows have consistently been in the 70s, providing little relief, he added.

Kevin Martin, 37, of Bethlehem, knew he would be out in the heat from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, delivering mail for the United States Postal Service. So he went to work prepared. He walked his Center City Allentown route with a wet rag on his head to stay cool, but he was still dripping with sweat. In his mailbag, he stashed several bottles of Gatorade and water.

“It’s brutal out here,” Martin said.

Still, he considered himself lucky. Other carriers were driving around in postal trucks without air conditioning, their only reprieve from the heat being a fan.

Mailman Kevin Martin walks his center city Allentown route with a wet rag on his head.
Mailman Kevin Martin walks his center city Allentown route with a wet rag on his head.

Jimmy Wellington, 47, was working out in the heat, too, helping a friend with some roofing. From the early morning hours, when it was slightly cooler, until around 4 p.m. Wellington was atop his friend’s roof, where it was much hotter than on the ground.

Fortunately, he could take plenty of water breaks.

“It’s crazy to say the least,” Wellington said, as he carried on with his chore.

The heat and your health

The Lehigh County Emergency Management Agency issued a news release this week about a “silent killer,” noting that about 1,500 people each year die in the United States from heat-related illnesses. The release highlighted the symptoms of heat exhaustion and the more serious heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion symptoms: Heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea and fainting.

What to do: Get to a cooler spot, lie down, loosen or wet your clothing, sip water.

Heat stroke symptoms: Body temperature above 103 degrees, skin that is red and hot, strong and rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, unconsciousness.

What to do: Cool the body in water and seek medical attention.

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