Heat waves sweep the US north-east over sweltering weekend

People use a fire hydrant to cool off in the Bronx, New York, on July 24, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Scorching temperatures swept the north-eastern US on Sunday (July 24) in the region's first prolonged heat wave of the summer, with record-breaking temperatures for five straight days in Newark, New Jersey, and blistering heat in Boston; Providence, Rhode Island; and Manchester, New Hampshire.

Other parts of the country also sweltered, with Oklahoma enduring temperatures that have topped 37.8 degrees Celsius in nine of the past 11 days.

The baking heat underscored the sobering reality that such dangerous temperatures are becoming a summertime norm for the United States and elsewhere, with heat waves, wildfires and droughts disrupting day-to-day life across the globe.

Heat waves in the United States jumped from an average of two per year in the 1960s to six per year by the 2010s. The last seven years have been the warmest in the history of accurate worldwide records.

The North-east heat surge, which hit some of the country's most densely populated corridors, sent residents scrambling for relief. In New York City, temperatures stayed just shy of record highs on Sunday afternoon, hitting 34 degrees Celsius in Central Park, as lines formed at the city's pools, despite many facing lifeguard shortages.

William Jimenez, 59, brought his 13-year-old son to the Crotona Park pool in the New York City borough of the Bronx early in the day, knowing that the spot would be mobbed later.

"The weather is getting hotter and hotter," he said. "The best thing is to be in the pool and the park."

In Newark, the temperature reached 38.9 degrees Celsius, a record for the date and the fifth day of above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius) readings, the longest recorded streak for the city. Providence hit 36.7 degrees Celsius, breaking its previous record of 34.4 in 1987, and Boston reached a sweltering 37.7 degrees Celsius, breaking its earlier record of 36.7 in 1933. Philadelphia hit 37.2 degrees Celsius, breaking its record of 36.7 from 2011, and Manchester recorded a temperature of 36.1, topping its previous high on the day of 35.

From Boston to Philadelphia to St. Louis, major cities declared heat emergencies and advisories that lasted throughout the weekend, some triggering services to keep residents cool, like opening libraries as cooling centres.

In notoriously swampy Washington, D.C., where temperatures hovered in the 30s, officials extended opening hours for some of the city's pools, and Kansas City, Missouri, released tips on Twitter for residents to keep heat from damaging the foundations of their homes.

Philadelphia, which declared a heat emergency starting on Thursday, halted a plan to shut off water to customers with delinquent bills, citing the heat wave.

Terry Greene, 62, said he used to enjoy the Washington, D.C., heat but has grown grateful for air-conditioning at the church where he is employed as a maintenance worker.

"If I'm going to be working outside, I just prepare for it. I know to come early in the morning," Greene said.

In Boston, race organisers postponed the city's annual triathlon. In New York, organisers shortened a similar race to account for the temperatures; the water temperature soared to nearly 26.7 degrees Celsius when the race started around dawn.

In Philadelphia, the utility PECO rolled out strategies for customers to save electricity, like washing clothes in cold water and installing window coverings.

Volunteers hand out ice near a homeless encampment at McPherson Square in Washington on July 24, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

In New York City, Allan Drury, a spokesperson for Con Edison, said last week represented the peak demand of electricity all summer.

Since last Monday, there have been more than 28,400 scattered power outages in the New York area, concentrated mainly in Westchester and the Bronx, Drury said.

"I'm 53-years-old, and I don't remember it ever being this hot," said Lonnie Coleman, a retired Philadelphia School District employee who relaxed by the Schuylkill in the morning hours Sunday, hoping to beat the afternoon heat.

Elsewhere in Philadelphia, children, dogs and a few adults splashed in the shallow water at the Logan Square fountain.

Laura McSloy, a food service worker from the Brewerytown section, was sitting in the fountain pool.

"It's so hot out that it made me feel bad for the dog," McSloy, 47, said.

Dogs are given water in New York on July 24, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Temperatures beyond the North-east also skyrocketed. Outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, Charley Pearson, 63, said the prolonged heat had been difficult for the small volunteer fire department of which he is chief. He described a man who had collapsed outside his home with heart problems.

"The man was in sun, no shade to find, so here we are outside pumping chest in 104-, 105-degree weather," he said.

In downtown Oklahoma City, where temperatures rose to 35.6 degrees Celsius by the early afternoon, children played in the water feature at Scissortail park, laughing and splashing. But the feature wasn't just for play: It is a last-ditch drinking source for some of the city's homeless people. Brian Brust, 52 and newly homeless, said it was one of the first lessons he learnt when he started living on the streets.

People cool off in a fire hydrant during a summer heatwave in the Bronx on July 20, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

"People tell me it's the place to go," Brust said. "It's hard to find water on the streets." He waited in the shade of the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library with numerous other homeless people around noon. It is one of the state's 75 designated cooling centres but did not open until 1pm.

The crippling heat on Sunday descended as pockets of the country were already struggling to manage a wave of heat-related emergencies, like the South-west's crippling drought and a distressingly active wildfire season in New Mexico, Arizona and California. The Oak Fire, near Yosemite National Park, has scorched more than 5,665 hectares.

A similarly scorching heat wave is set to sweep parts of the North-west next week, with cities like Seattle expected to face temperatures that top 37.8 degrees Celsius.

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