PROMISED LAND, PENNSYLVANIA (AP) – It’s not exactly flowing with milk and honey – just ask the area’s struggling black bears – but Promised Land offered respite on Sunday for city folks in the Northeast of the United States (US) trying to escape a nearly week-long hot spell that only threatened to intensify.
Those with the resources fled to pools, beaches and higher elevations like Promised Land State Park, at 550 metres in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains and a drive of about two-and-a-half hours from New York City and Philadelphia.
From the Pacific Northwest to the southern Great Plains to the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor, more than 85 million Americans were under excessive heat warnings or heat advisories issued by the National Weather Service. The agency warned of “extremely oppressive” conditions from Washington to Boston.
Even in Promised Land, temperatures were forecast to soar above 32 degree Celsius (C), but with shade from the forests, cool lake water and mountain breezes, it was more than tolerable, visitors said.
Rosa Chavez, 47, a high school teacher in Manhattan, applied sunscreen at a beach on Promised Land Lake. She and friend Arlene Rodriguez, who accompanied her, had just experienced Europe’s own heat wave while vacationing last week in Florence, Italy.
“The heat is following us,” said Rodriguez, 47, a real estate agent and property manager.
Numerous record highs were expected to be tied or broken in the Northeast, the weather service said.
Philadelphia hit 37C on Sunday before even factoring in humidity
At least two heat-related deaths have been reported in the Northeast, with officials warning of the potential for more.
Philadelphia officials extended a heat emergency through Monday evening, sending workers to check on homeless people and knock on the doors of other vulnerable residents. The city also opened cooling centers and stationed air-conditioned buses at four intersections for people to cool off.
Forecasters urged people to wear light clothing, drink lots of water, limit time outside, and check on elderly people and pets.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu declared a heat emergency through Monday and kept a dozen cooling centres open.
Athletic events were shortened or postponed. Organisers of the New York City Triathlon cut the distances that athletes had to run and bike. This weekend’s Boston Triathlon was put off until August 20-21.
On the West Coast, forecasters warned of extreme heat arriving early this week and lingering until the weekend. Temperatures could break daily records in Seattle, Portland and Northern California and climb to the highest level since a heat wave last year that killed hundreds of people across the Pacific Northwest.
Many homes in the often-rainy region lack air conditioning, and authorities cautioned that indoor heat is likely to build through the week, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses, something emergency medical officials in Boston also warned of.
Back in Promised Land, Chavez said she has asthma and needs to keep her inhaler around, especially “when the heat is so thick I can’t breathe”. The breezes and clearer air in the mountains help, she said.
It was already over 26C at midmorning as Mhamed Moussa Boudjelthia, a 31-year-old Uber driver from Queens, fired up a grill at the beach to make kebabs. He and another friend from Queens had fled the hot chaos of the city for the day.
“There, it’s really hot,” Boudjelthia said. “There’s too much humidity, too.” His friend, Kamel Mahiout, 35, agreed as he stood in a cooling breeze: “It’s crazy in New York City.”
The heat was withering even less than an hour away, at lower elevations. In Scranton, Pennsylvania, Sunday’s high was expected to be 32C, and not punching below 21C at night.
“That also leads to the danger. People aren’t getting that relief overnight,” said weather service forecaster Lily Chapman. “That stress on the body is kind of cumulative over time.”
The area also has been drier than usual, she said.
Regular campers and cabin residents in Promised Land attribute unusually numerous bear sightings to the dry conditions. The animals roam neighbourhoods and campsites for scraps as streams and berries dry up.
“Today’s hot,” said Alex Paez, 34, of Scranton, sitting under a shade canopy at the beach in Promised Land. “If you don’t need to be outside doing something productive, then stay in.”