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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The heat wave that has embroiled half of the continental United States in triple digit temperatures this week still had southern areas sizzling on Wednesday but spared much of the Northeast.
The National Weather Service said dangerously hot and humid weather would continue across much of the South and the south-central region, and issued heat advisories for 11 states.
"The heat wave is beginning to break down in some parts and it's not as expansive as it was yesterday," said Chris Vaccaro, spokesman for the weather service.
Counties in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia received excessive heat warnings, indicating the mix of heat and humidity could cause heat illnesses.
There will be a risk of thunderstorms through the central and southern states. Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi could see severe thunderstorms with high winds and hail.
On Tuesday, the national high in the United States was in Fort Smith, Arkansas, which hit 108 degrees as a forest raged in two counties elsewhere in the state.
Arkansas fire crews created a containment line for a 540-acre fire in Garland and Saline Counties that had raced out of control on Tuesday near the Ouachita National Forest but was nearly suppressed on Wednesday.
The Arkansas Forestry Commission has designated southern Arkansas near the Louisiana border as a high fire danger risk area. Burn bans were in effect for 35 of 75 counties in the state, a number that will likely increase, officials said.
A rainstorm that drenched Oklahoma City with a record 2.91 inches provided some temporary cooling there, but temperatures will be hovering near 100 degrees through early next week.
Oklahoma, which hit record highs on five days in June, is not unaccustomed to 100-degree temperatures in the summer, but the recent streak of hot temperatures is unusual, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
Despite the recent rainfall, the city is in the midst of a prolonged drought, and mandatory restrictions on lawn watering were imposed on Monday for the first time in over a decade.
The problem isn't that the state's largest city doesn't have enough water. But the city can't process and treat it fast enough to keep up with demand, said Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for the city's utility department.
A northern cold front that pushed across the Great Lakes and Northeast has driven down the thermometer while making it less humid, according to the Weather Channel.
"High temperatures today range from the 'chilly' 60s and 70s from western Pennsylvania to northern New England to the hot and humid 90s in southern Virginia," said Kevin Roth, lead meteorologist for The Weather Channel.
In the South, high temperatures will mostly be in the 90s to near 105, with indices of 95 to 115.
On Wednesday morning, around 186,000 customers remained without power in the Chicago area from the severe storm that left a record 868,000 customers in the dark on Monday, according to Tony Hernandez, spokesman for ComEd, the utility company servicing the area.
Additional reporting by Karin Matz in Chicago, Steve Olafson in Oklahoma, Suzi Parks in Little Rock; Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston