Massive heat wave spreads across United States

NEW YORK, July 21 Thu Jul 21, 2011 2:25pm EDT

NEW YORK, July 21 (Reuters) - Crowds flocked to waterfronts and swimming pools on the U.S. East Coast and in the Midwest on Thursday to try to cope with a massive heat wave that has killed at least 22 people this week.

The National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings for wide areas of the central and eastern United States, saying the combined heat and humidity could push the "real feel" temperature to 115 Fahrenheit (46 Celsius) through Saturday.

By Thursday afternoon in New York City, the thermometer hit 91F (33C) but it felt more like 112F (44C), according to AccuWeather.com.

With the promise of refreshing ocean breezes, Boston's whale-watching ships and high-speed tourist boats sold out their trips by mid-morning.

Cooling centers in Richmond, Virginia, and New York City welcomed overheated residents and a truck labeled "Water Fountain on the Go" cruised Manhattan streets, offering to refill water bottles to keep residents hydrated.

Electricity utility Con Edison (ED.N) said scattered outages were likely in New York in coming days with demand expected to hit all-time highs.

Unhealthy smog levels triggered by the heat were reported in Chicago, where residents were asked by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to reduce polluting activities such as idling vehicles and mowing lawns.

By the weekend, the heat wave is expected to cover half of the United States and affect nearly half of its 310 million people, AccuWeather.com forecaster Mary Yoon said.

"What makes this heat wave so impressive is the pure size and longevity," said Yoon.

'DANGEROUS HEALTH RISK'

Longstanding records in Philadelphia and other cities may melt away by Friday, when temperatures are expected to spike. The low pressure system that barreled east was expected to bring powerful thunderstorms with hail to northeastern states.

"Do not take this threat lightly," the National Weather Service warned on its website, noting the extreme temperatures are particularly dangerous for the elderly and the very young.

"The length of this heat wave will pose a very real and dangerous health risk to these at-risk groups and those that do not have access to air conditioning."

In the central United States, where the high temperatures have killed nearly two dozen people, more deaths were tied to the heat.

An elderly woman whose body was found in her bedroom in St. Louis, where a working air conditioner had not been turned on despite 99F (37C) temperatures, was determined on Wednesday to have died of heat stroke.

Similar causes of death were reported on Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri, where a woman in her early 80s died, and in Hutchinson, Kansas, where three elderly people were found dead in separate homes on Wednesday.

Of the people who died in Hutchinson, one had a ceiling fan and another, a 76-year-old man, had an air conditioner.

"He had an air-conditioning unit in the window but didn't use it because he didn't want to pay the electric bill," said Hutchinson Police Sergeant Thad Pickard. (Additional reporting by Bruce Olson, Lauren Keiper, Kevin Murphy, Karin Matz and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton and John O'Callaghan)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
JohnSmith9875 wrote:
It seems nobody cared about the 2 month heat wave until it started spreading to the east coast! We in the Central USA have been suffering for quite some time now.

Jul 21, 2011 3:27pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
I know, John…it is terrible for all of you. Where I live is a tiny little town in NYS and it is 103 (was yesterday, as well); I can’t afford AC as I am on SS and living in a senior facility and the fans don’t do squat. People should be ashamed of themselves if they are so self-oriented they don’t care about anyone but themselves or where they live. My sympathies to you. My legs are actually adherent to the chair where I am sitting at the computer and it is dreadful. God be with you.

Jul 22, 2011 6:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.