AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Oppressive heat and record temperatures baked the southern Central Plains on Wednesday with the mercury soaring to a blistering 115 degrees in one Arkansas town, breaking a record set in the 19th century.
Little cool relief was in sight for the region, which sweated through myriad broken records. The National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings for much of the region and parts of the Southeast and Southwest.
A cold front moving through the Midwest began cooling parts of the country’s midsection, NWS meteorologist Jim Keeney said. Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri will see temperatures drop into the 80s later in the week with a chance of rain.
South and southeast parts of the country were predicted to swelter under high heat and humidity through next week, he said.
Southern and central states have had little chance to cool down overnight, said Accuweather.com senior meteorologist Paul Walker. Nighttime lows have settled in the upper 70s and low 80s, he said, with temperatures quickly rising during the day.
“You don’t get relief. You still have the sticky, warm feeling overnight,” Walker said.
Record-breaking temperatures that began earlier this week continued on Wednesday, with the mercury hitting 115 degrees Fahrenheit in Fort Smith, Arkansas in a heat event for the ages, shattering a record of 107 set in 1896.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the temperature reached 112 degrees, breaking the record of 110 set in 1923. In neighboring Texas, Wichita Falls counted its 43rd day of over-100-degree temperatures, a new record for that city.
The Texas power grid agency initiated an electric emergency on Wednesday for a second day as demand soared during the unrelenting heat wave. No rolling outages were reported.
But the grid operator warned that power to some industrial customers might be curtailed if demand continues to climb.
In Nashville, emergency officials distributing bottled water on the streets. And in Memphis, police and fire departments went door to door to check on people identified as most vulnerable to the heat, city leaders said.
“This summer is already one of the hottest on record, and the current heat wave is expected to continue through Thursday,” Mayor A.C. Wharton, Jr., said. “We’ve already had people perish from these deadly temperatures.”
In Arkansas, Justin McKeown, 25, was just trying to do his job -- wearing a chicken suit in the baking sun as he carries a sign advertising for a gold, silver and jewelry buyer.
McKeown said the nicest thing that happened to him was a $7 tip from a sympathetic passerby, although someone else had reported him to police over concerns for his health.
Overall, the job isn’t as bad as it would seem, said McKeown, the father of a 5-year-old boy.
“It’s getting hotter out there,” he said. “But a breeze comes through this and hits my soaking, wet shirt. Not real bad.”
The National Weather Service said fewer heat related deaths have been reported during this stretch of hot weather, but the unrelenting heat has already been blamed in the death of an assistant football coach in Plano, Texas.
Garlen Wade McLain died on Monday of heat-related illness associated with a heart condition, according to the Collin County Medical Examiner’s Office. McLain, 55, collapsed after practice at the Prestonwood Christian Academy near Dallas.
In Charleston, South Carolina, high school football coaches were taking preventive measures against the heat with players practicing in shorts and helmets, taking frequent water breaks and even plunging into cool-down tubs.
In Nashville, the National Football League’s Tennessee Titans coaches were deciding whether the ballclub would practice outdoors in the afternoon as scheduled, or move inside an air-conditioned “bubble,” according to Alex Garmezy in the media relations office.
High school football players in Tennessee just began practicing in full pads this week. Some coaches have moved their practices to earlier in the morning or into the evening.
The Northeast basked in more pleasant weather on Wednesday with temperatures in the 70s in New England, New York and northern Pennsylvania, according to The Weather Channel.
Washington, D.C., and Baltimore were looking at possible showers on Wednesday, with the potential for thunderstorms predicted from Philadelphia to New York, according to AccuWeather.com.
Meanwhile, weather watchers continued to track the projected path of Tropical Storm Emily, now bearing down on Hispaniola with the potential to become a low-level hurricane by early next week.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center revised its tracking guidance overnight to reflect the possibility that Emily would cut a northward path up the Florida peninsula beginning on Friday.
Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville, Suzi Parker in Little Rock and Harriet McLeod in Charleston; Writing by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston