US East Coast sees slight relief from heat wave

WASHINGTON Mon Jul 25, 2011 6:03am EDT

A boy cools off at the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park in Chicago, July 21, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Young

A boy cools off at the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park in Chicago, July 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The powerful heat and humidity that plagued the eastern half of the United States for days began to fade on Sunday, to the relief of many sweltering residents, forecasters said.

Temperatures in Washington, D.C., New York and elsewhere along the East Coast hovered in the 90s Fahrenheit, down from the triple-digits recorded on Friday and Saturday.

Records were set on Friday in Newark, New Jersey, at 108 degrees F and in Dulles, Virginia, at 105 degrees.

At its peak, the heat wave put some 132 million people under a heat alert and was blamed for as many as 34 deaths, according to the National Weather Service.

"The huge area of high pressure at most levels of the atmosphere responsible for the dangerous, record-setting heat in multiple states is backing out of the northeastern U.S. and neighbouring Canada," AccuWeather.com's senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

A heat alert remained in effect until evening as well as a Code Orange air quality alert, meaning that air pollution concentrations may be unhealthy for children, the elderly or people in poor health.

Slightly cooler air from Canada was starting to drift across the Midwest and the Northeast, bringing showers and thunderstorms.

A record 6.86 inches of rain fell in Chicago on Saturday, forcing the cancellation of some flights and the closing of parts of some highways and train lines.

The heat was baking Tennessee, where temperatures were in the 90s, with the heat index forecast to reach about 103 degrees in Nashville and 105 degrees in Memphis.

A possibility of storms was forecast for the evening.

No relief was in sight, however, for the southern plains where triple-digit heat was expected to continue to roast states including Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, forecasters said.

The heat has exacerbated droughts in Texas and Arkansas. (Reporting by Wendell Marsh, additional reporting by Timothy Ghianni in Nashville; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)