US heat wave just warming up for long, scorching weekend

DETROIT (AP) — The heat wave that has been roasting much of the United States (US) in recent days is just getting warmed up, with temperatures expected to soar to dangerous levels through the weekend.

Communities are preparing by offering buildings as cooling centres and asking residents to check in on relatives and neighbours. Officials also are concerned about smog, which is exacerbated by the heat and makes it more difficult for certain people to breathe, including the very young, the elderly and people with asthma or lung diseases.

Over 100 local heat records fell, according to the National Weather Service.

Most did not record-daily highs but record-high nighttime lows, and that lack of cooling can be dangerous, meteorologists said. Temperatures in parts of the East did not drop below the mid- to upper-26.7 Celsius at night, he said.

The heat wave will likely be “short and searing,” said Forecast Branch Chief for the weather service’s Weather Prediction Center Greg Carbin.

Russ Wilson splashes water on his face from a fountain in New York. – AP

A high pressure system stretching from coast-to-coast is keeping the heat turned on. The heat and humidity are made to feel worse by the large amount of moisture in the air coming from the Gulf of Mexico, much of it left over from Hurricane Barry.

The heat index, which is what the temperature feels like, hit 43.3 Celsius in Washington, DC, last Saturday and 42.8 Celsius in Chicago and Detroit last Friday, said Meteorology Director of Weather Underground Jeff Masters. Last Wednesday marked Washington’s seventh straight day with temperatures of at least 32.2 Celsius, and that streak was expected to last for another five days.

An experimental weather service forecast projects that nearly 100 local records were broken last Thursday and last Friday in Texas, Oklahoma, parts of the Midwest and a large swath of the East Coast.

Last Saturday, 101 records fell in an area stretching from Texas to Iowa and east to Maine and Florida.

Deloris Knight said she will keep the heat out of her eastside Detroit home by keeping her doors and curtains closed while running the small window air conditioner in her living room.

“We have a couple of big fans. We have ceiling fans,” Knight, 63, said last Wednesday while enjoying temperatures 29 degrees Celsius from her front porch. “I keep lemonade and gallons of frozen water in the refrigerator. At night, we’re in the house.”

Even that may not provide enough relief for some, especially for young children, the elderly or people with certain chronic illnesses.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s live air quality tracker reported that the air was “unhealthy” last Wednesday for sensitive groups in a stretch of the East Coast from Baltimore to Bridgeport, Connecticut, including Philadelphia and New York City.

Such heat can be deadly. Over three days in July 1995, over 700 people died during a heat wave in Chicago as temperatures rose above 36.1 Celsius. Many of the dead were poor, elderly and lived alone.