NEW YORK — Temperatures soared toward 100 degrees or more Tuesday along much of the East Coast, as air conditioners strained to cool the sweating masses and the unlucky sought out cooling centers — or anywhere else they could beat the heat.
After an extended Fourth of July weekend when temperatures inched into at least the 90s from Maine to Texas, The National Weather Service issued heat advisories until 11 p.m. Wednesday for much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, including an excessive heat warning for the Philadelphia area. Wednesday was forecast to be the most humid day of the stretch.
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The heat was expected to put a heavy load on the power grid.
“We expect to have record energy use today. It will be a challenge,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Utilities and regional electrical system operators said there is ample generation capacity and no major blackouts were expected.
“The system is designed for what we are experiencing today,” said Con Edison senior vice president John Miksad.
Just a smattering of power outages were reported across the northeast on Monday and Tuesday.
Those without air conditioning were left to cope as they could.
In the Bronx, Gardenia Childs, 72, walked to the store early and bought herself an extra fan, but swore off any more exercise for the day as she wheeled it home in a shopping cart.
“I don’t think I’ll be coming outside again,” she said.
Nearby, construction worker Pat McHugh, 49, his face shiny with sweat, took a break to cool off with a cup of hot tea, of all things.
“It’s brutal. And I’m on the shady side of the building,” he said. Worst heat on the job in 10 years, he added.
At his Manhattan newsstand, a steel kiosk that soaks up sun like a sponge, vendor Sam Doctor said the only way to keep cool was to keep splashing his head with water, but he acknowledged that his system wouldn’t last. Both of his soda-cooling refrigerators had already conked out by midmorning.
“When it’s 100 degrees out there, it’s 110 in here,” he said, still smiling as he served customers.
Davey Adams, 45, was headed back to his job Tuesday morning as a forklift driver at a package company warehouse in Philadelphia that has no air conditioning, just fans.
He said he planned to use “cold water and a washcloth” draped over his head to keep cool.
Still, the high temperatures were proving to be dangerous.
In New York, 13 firefighters were treated at a hospital after suffering from dehydration and exhaustion while battling a Queens blaze. The lieutenant governor of Massachusetts spent Monday night in a hospital after marching in five parades in 90-degree heat.
Heat was blamed in the death of a 92-year-old Philadelphia woman whose body was discovered Monday by a neighbor, and for the death of a homeless woman found lying next to a car in suburban Detroit on Sunday.
A “heat wave” is defined as three consecutive days of 90-degree plus temperatures, said Charlie Foley of the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass. That definition applies to all the northeastern United States, although there may be different definitions in other parts of the country, but he wasn’t sure what they were.
Some cities monitored by his office had hit that level, including Hartford, Conn., and Providence, R.I., while others had not, he said.
Even the queen of England, who’s a familiar visitor to exotic and steamy places, may find summertime on the East Coast a grueling experience. She was expected to address the United Nations and pay tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks during her first visit to New York in more than three decades
In the East, warm air is “sitting over the top of us, and it’s not really going to budge much for the next day or two,” said Brian Korty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, Md. After that, he said, a system coming in off the Atlantic Ocean would bring in cooler temperatures.
Korty stressed that the danger from increasing temperatures was likely to grow.
“As the temperature and humidity both get higher, the stress it can put on the human body increases,” he said, “and therefore the higher the temperature and higher the humidity, the greater the chance of people having problems.”
In downtown Philadelphia, temperatures were already approaching 90 degrees on Tuesday morning.
Robert McCarron, 44, was wearing a navy suit and tie as he walked four blocks from a downtown subway station to an office building where he was due for a job interview.
“If I was going to a job, you’d better believe I wouldn’t be wearing a suit,” he said. “This is rough, and it’s only going to get hotter.”
Walkers and drivers all seemed to be moving a little more slowly in the heat, which combined high humidity with clear sunny skies that made sidewalks hot and asphalt sticky.
“Why am I drinking hot coffee this morning? Because I’m crazy,” paralegal Sharon Loven, 35, said with a laugh on her way to work after a long beach weekend that was still too brief for her liking.
“I should have stayed at the shore. That’s the place to be when it’s this hot.”