Reggie Ford, 43, sat beside several of his paintings outside of Jackson Square last Thursday (Aug. 10), in scorching heat that reached over 100 degrees.
Ford has a lot of experience dealing with the city’s hot summers. He’s been working as an artist, selling his wares outdoors, for nearly 20 years, starting after Hurricane Katrina. But this year has been different.
Two days earlier, on Aug. 8, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued an emergency declaration due to the excessive heat the city has been experiencing this summer. The mayor’s declaration pointed to statistics from The National Weather Service which found that 2023 has already broken or approached multiple records for heat.
“This is the hottest summer I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Ford said. “Not only the hottest, but the most humid.”
According to The National Weather Service, the city has experienced the most consecutive days with excessive heat warnings, 18 days with heat index temperatures of 115 degrees or higher and the most days with temperatures higher than 95 degrees.
There have been six heat-related deaths in New Orleans this year, according to the city’s coroner. The New Orleans Emergency Medical Services reported in early August that the amount of calls it has received per month from residents dealing with heat-related emergencies is four times the average.
The excessive heat has especially been difficult for those whose occupations require them to work outside, especially in parts of the city like the French Quarter — laden with concrete and with sparse tree cover and where temperatures are routinely several degrees hotter than the rest of the city. For most of these workers, some of whom have physically demanding jobs , there’s no way around avoiding the heat for hours at a time.
Ford has strategies for cooling down amid the excessive heat. He said if it gets too hot, he’ll get a cold beverage. Water trickled from the bag of ice he held up and kept near, another strategy he uses to stay cool in these record temperatures.
“If it get a little too hot, I just get a cold beverage,” he said. “I always keep some ice on a stash.”
Montrel Ross, 28, delivers beverages to restaurants and bars around the French Quarter for Southern Eagle Sales and Service. He said it’s “miserable” unloading his delivery truck and dollying orders to clients in the record-breaking heat. Starting at 6 a.m. every morning, Ross walks 5 to 6 miles everyday around the Quarter.
“As soon as I get out the truck, I’m sweaty,” Ross said. “This heat killer.”
He stays cool by drinking as much water as possible, he said. Ross also tries to stay in the shade and air-conditioned spaces and doesn’t linger in the sun.
For those who have to interact with the public as part of their job, the heat has an effect on how many people they see per day and has changed how they interact with people, especially those not from the area.
Coco Edwards, 25, a fundraiser for the Nature Conservancy, stands outside for hours at a time canvassing passersby for donations. She said she’s used to the heat because she grew up in Louisiana, but that tourists who aren’t acclimated react differently.
“I found that the people we’re approaching are a little less excited to stop and listen to us, which is understandable,” Edwards said. “I always tell them, ‘Listen, the nearest A/C building is this way or go this way or this way has the best snowballs.’ I always try to give them recommendations because it is hot.”
Albert Davis, a 61-year-old courier for DocuMart Printing, had just wrapped up a delivery in the French Quarter and was loading up his truck to leave for another. The Metairie resident has been a courier for 35 years and said he never experienced such extreme heat in more than three decades on the job.
“It’s the hottest it’s been in 35 years, as long as I can remember,” Davis said. “It’s the hottest summer I can remember.”
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