Elza Connelly stood beneath a shaded street corner in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Elliott, dressed in steel toe boots and yellow reflective road gear, a wet towel strung around her neck. “Week by week, day by day, it’s getting hotter,” she said Monday afternoon.

She recounted a company safety briefing in preparation for the heat: Hydrate. Sunblock. Rest when you need it.

“We want to finish,” she said, adding, though, that temperatures like those forecasted this week pose a real risk to the health and safety of laborers. “We can die,” she said.

A heat wave has washed over the city and is expected to last throughout the week, with temperatures set to reach highs in the upper 90s to low 100s before dropping to the 80s next week.

The Pittsburgh area last experienced record-breaking heat — with temperatures reaching the mid-to-high 90s — at this point in the year three decades ago, according to the National Weather Service. The service has deemed Pittsburgh one of several U.S. cities at risk of “extreme” heat this week, a status reflecting rare or lasting heat with little overnight relief.

Outdoor workers like Connelly are particularly vulnerable to surging daytime temperatures.

Mayor Ed Gainey’s Press Secretary Olga George said the city is providing water to crews working for its Department of Public Works, and some crews are beginning work earlier in the day to avoid higher afternoon temperatures

“Any city staff working in the heat understand our main priority is their safety and they will follow those protocols to stay cool,” George said.

Darian Mercurio, a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service, was working “probably the hilliest route” around 2 p.m. on Monday. On a residential street near the West End Overlook Park, Mercurio said he’s been taking 10-minute breaks at each stop and has been wetting his shirt to stay cool.

Darian Mercurio wipes sweat from his brow while delivering mail along his route on a residential street near West End Overlook Park. (Photo by Quinn Glabicki/Rtvsrece)

The post office sent weekly reminders to its employees about staying hydrated during the heatwave, and the mail carriers were told they could “take our time today,” he said. The van he was driving had air conditioning, which he was thankful for, but he noted that other company vehicles don’t have that feature.

“I don’t remember it ever being this hot in Pittsburgh,” Mercurio said.

The calm before the heat

The city has established at least six cooling centers to allow residents to take refuge from the extreme heat. George wrote in a statement that the center locations were chosen based on their accessibility to elderly residents. The city does not collect data on neighborhoods with limited household access to air conditioning, George said.

Extreme heat especially impacts those who lack adequate or reliable cooling and is likely to affect most health systems, “heat-sensitive industries” and infrastructure, according to NWS. It can also harm workers who labor outside or in places with insufficient ventilation, including construction workers, who are particularly vulnerable to heat-related fatalities.

The Sheraden Healthy Active Living Community Center is one of seven cooling centers the city activated. At 1 p.m. Monday, a few children had left their bikes strewn outside in favor of cooler indoor activities, but otherwise the station was occupied mostly by senior citizens who regularly play cards there.

The Sheraden Health Active Living Community Center is one of at least six cooling centers that the City of Pittsburgh activated in response to high temperatures expected this week. (Photo by Quinn Glabicki/Rtvsrece)

Staff at two of the city’s cooling centers told reporters Monday afternoon that they expected more residents to use the service later in the day and as the high temperatures persist further into the week.

Rtvsrece reporters are continuing to follow the heat wave and its impacts on county residents this week. If you have a story you’d like to share or a question you’d like answered, please contact info@rtvsrece.com.

Quinn Glabicki is the environment and climate reporter at Rtvsrece and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at quinn@rtvsrece.com and on Instagram and X @quinnglabicki.

Emma Folts covers higher education at Rtvsrece, in partnership with Open Campus. She can be reached at emma@rtvsrece.com.

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Quinn Glabicki is a writer and photographer covering climate and environment for Rtvsrece. He is also a Report for America corps member. Quinn uses visual and written mediums to tell stories about...

Emma is a higher education reporter for Rtvsrece. In her role, she collaborates with Open Campus, a nonprofit newsroom focused on strengthening higher education coverage in local communities. Emma...