Horse Drawn Carriages
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Horse Drawn Carriages

How hot is too hot for carriage horses?

Official thermometer high above steamy streets decides

By Doug Pardue
The Post and Courier
Thursday, August 7, 2008

Charleston's carriage tour horses and mules got a break from the searing heat Wednesday when the city's official thermometer hit 98 degrees and the city ordered them back to their stables for the first time this year.

Tyrone Walker
The Post and Courier

Deanne Pace holds her own thermometer as she stands on Anson Street in downtown Charleston on Wednesday. The official city thermometer is located at the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium's office on Calhoun Street.

Deanne Pace said the animals should have been pulled out of the heat a lot sooner Wednesday and on a lot more days because the city's official thermometer is not on the hot streets where the animals do most of their work. To prove her point, the Johns Island silversmith bought a new thermometer and took it on Tuesday to the corner of North Market and Church streets near where most of the carriage tours operate and stable their horses and mules.

At 3:45 that afternoon, her new temperature gauge read a sweat-beading 106 degrees. She looked around and noticed that several horses pulling tour carriages still clomped along the steamy streets loaded with tourists. Others stood ready to take on more. So, she said, she walked over to a city animal services officer near the stables and inquired. He assured her that the temperature was below the official 98-degree cutoff and showed her the official reading, which came in just under 93 degrees, she said.

So where exactly is the official thermometer anyway?

City code specifies that:

"The official thermometer used for determining the temperature and the heat index shall be located at the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium located at 287 Meeting Street."

Inside the Sea Grant Consortium the receptionist confessed that she had never heard of the official thermometer, but offered that she was new and went to another worker to ask. That person also didn't know and took the question to Executive Director Richard DeVoe, who replied, "Really?"

Offered a look at a copy of the pertinent section of city code, he responded "We've never been aware."

So just where is the official thermometer?

DeVoe said maybe what the city has in mind is the little weather monitoring station at 113 Calhoun Street where the Sea Grant Consortium keeps another office. That station monitors for the on-line weather site, WeatherBug.

At 113 Calhoun, next door to Buist Academy, Susannah Sheldon with the Sea Grant Consortium agreed to show where the official thermometer sits.

How hot is it?

She spiraled up three, narrow, squeaky floors of wooden steps to the attic. There rested a bunch of electronic gadgets.

But where is the actual official thermometer?

She walked back down the stairs, made a phone call to find out, walked outside and looked up at the roof. There, on a pole several feet atop the roof's peak, perched the city's official thermometer.

That's up above many of the second-and third-floor piazzas where Charlestonians historically retreat to enjoy cooling sea breezes and escape the heat below on the streets.

This discovery made Pace even more upset. "This is where the horses are," she said. She stood in the middle of Anson Street outside several of the carriage tour stables, shortly after the city put a halt to the tours early Wednesday afternoon.

Watchdog series

The official thermometer reached slightly above 99 degrees about 2:30 p.m. before an afternoon thunderstorm sent the mercury into the low 80s and the horses back to work. But as Pace stood on Anson Street about 3 p.m. her thermometer registered 109 degrees at horse height.

"Why would you take it anywhere else?" she asked of the temperature.

Mary Margaret Baker, tourism management coordinator for the city, said the WeatherBug reading was picked a few years ago after lengthy work by a study committee. The committee felt the WeatherBug site offered a better reading of the actual, ambient temperature instead of readings at street level which could be affected by various things and change by location. And she said the online site is accessible to anyone.

U.S. Weather Service meteorologist Joe Calderone said the service's downtown monitor is near the harbor and tends to read lower than the temperature on the streets. The service recorded a temperature of 94 degrees Wednesday at Waterfront Park, 5 degrees off the record set in 1956. The temperature at the airport hit a record 100 degrees.

But, Calderone said, the best reading for what people experience should be taken from about 6 feet above the ground. Readings made from higher sites, such as the service's airport thermometer, which is mounted 30 feet high, reduce the influence of radiated heat off the ground, "the urban heat island."

At Old South Carriage Co., a big French Percheron named Dick rested in the shade of the stable still hitched and ready to go when the weather cooled. He got plenty of water, a couple of spray-downs and a fan. Driver Becky Anton said they carefully watch the big animals, take their body temperature after each one-hour tour and rest them between tours.

Maria Frank and her family from Myrtle Beach walked up to see if they could take a carriage tour but were told the heat put a temporary stop to the rides. Standing in the sun near where Pace still held her thermometer reading 109 degrees, Frank said.

"We understand."

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