updated 7/26/2005 3:37:29 PM ET 2005-07-26T19:37:29

A long spell of hot, dry weather and some crunchy brown grass do wonders for Mike Salesman’s business.

Salesman is general manager of Allen Irrigation, a St. Louis company that so far this summer has installed an average of 15 residential in-ground watering systems per week. That’s about double the number from last summer.

“When a guy walks out in his yard like last year and it’s green and his neighbor’s yard is green, the last thing he thinks about is irrigation,” Salesman said. “When he walks out today and everything is brown and his wife is complaining about dragging the hose around, he’s motivated to get a system.”

The central United States is known for its hot, steamy summers, but this year’s weather has been brutal even by Midwestern standards. The high reached 102 degrees on Monday in St. Louis, and 100 miles to the west, Columbia, Mo., topped the century mark for the sixth straight day. To make matters worse, it’s been one of the driest summers on record.

Yet among those left crabby by the heat, some business owners are quite content.

The St. Louis-based Wehrenberg Theater chain has seen attendance rise 11 percent this summer, even as business slumps for the movie industry in general. Part of the credit goes to Wehrenberg’s “Heat Advisory Matinee” — when the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory, the chain offers discount-priced tickets for adults through 6 p.m.

“It’s just like the old days — get out of the heat, go to a movie theater where it’s cool and comfy,” Wehrenberg spokeswoman Kelly Hoskins said. “People are stuck indoors and they get tired of staying home. You’re seeing them go to movie theaters because they want to be entertained.”

Extra electricity
Big business is benefiting, too. Arch Coal Inc., the St. Louis-based company that provides fuel for about 7 percent of the nation’s electricity, is projecting “unprecedented demand for coal” thanks in part to hotter-than-normal summer temperatures.

Several utility companies — FirstEnergy Corp. in Ohio, the Tennessee Valley Authority, AmerenUE in eastern Missouri and central Illinois, on Monday saw all-time peak electricity usage due to constantly running air conditioners.

A spokesman for the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, which provides the grid through which electricity passes, said the extra usage is showing no signs of overwhelming the system. Such an overload led to the August 2003 blackout that left 50 million people without power in the Northeast.

But the heat was taking a toll on businesses whose patrons must be outdoors.

At Dwight Davis Tennis Center in St. Louis’ Forest Park, it’s not uncommon for most of the 19 courts to be filled on a nice day. This week, desk manager Tom Verhoff has actually been pulling people off the courts.

“I canceled our kids’ clinics yesterday,” Verhoff said. “It was 115 degrees on the courts. I didn’t want the kids out there passing out.”

Verhoff estimated that attendance during the heat wave has been down 75 percent to 80 percent. A few die-hards show up, but Verhoff has seen more than a few players get out of their air-conditioned cars, glance at the heat rising from the concrete courts, and turn away.

At Eagle Run Golf Course in Omaha, Neb., you don’t need to reserve a tee time.

“It’s been pretty quiet,” pro shop assistant manager Joe Naatz said. “In the afternoons, we don’t have anything going on.”

Agriculture hit hardest
Tourist attractions reported mixed results. Attendance was up slightly at the Gateway Arch and on riverboat excursions in downtown St. Louis — all are air conditioned. Attendance was down at zoos. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo had 3,700 visitors Sunday — a typical Sunday draws up to 7,000.

Perhaps the businesses hardest hit by the heat are those related to agriculture. In Nebraska, more than 1,000 head of cattle died last weekend alone from the oppressive heat. And in Ohio, dairy farmers say cows are producing less milk. Farmers around the Midwest are being forced to spend money on irrigation.

Some construction projects are being delayed. In Nashville, Tenn., Pat Marzella said the days of forcing crews to work through extraordinary heat are over.

“I remember pouring concrete for the first sewer plant addition; it was not uncommon for men to be passing out left and right,” said Marzella, project manager for RC Mathews Contractor. “Those days of wide-open cowboy construction are over. We’re mindful these days of health concerns and liability. Once you start feeling bad, it’s too late. It’s all about continuously hydrating.”

Fortunately, relief was in sight. Nebraska and Iowa were already cooling off Tuesday as a cold front was expected to mean highs in the comfortable 70s. By Wednesday, highs were expected in the 70s and 80s from Missouri through Ohio and Kentucky.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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