- Philadelphia, New York and Boston reach nearly 100 degrees today
- 50 million Americans affected by extreme weather
- Health officials warn residents to drink water and stay out of sun
- Dozens of people hospitalized while attending graduation ceremonies
- Cooling centers and ambulances on hand for fainting and exhaustion
- In stark contrast, Minnesota suffers severe flooding and heavy rainfall
PUBLISHED: 17:53 EST, 20 June 2012 | UPDATED: 19:36 EST, 20 June 2012
The National Weather Service forecast record-breaking heat to mark today’s summer solstice, making the longest day of the year also one of the hottest for 50 million Americans.
Readings were expected to reach 100 degrees Wednesday and Thursday – if not higher – in cities including Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The National Weather Service has issued heat advisories and excessive heat warnings in 12 states, from Virginia to Maine.
Dozens of people attending outdoor graduation ceremonies have been hospitalized because of the heat, causing emergency responders to redirect ambulances to what should have been festive occasions.
According to the National Weather Service, the temperature was 93 degrees in New York City’s Central Park, but with humidity it felt like 97. In Boston, it felt like 100 but was 93. In Washington, it felt like 101 but was 97.
In New Britain, Connecticut, 24 people had to be treated for heat exhaustion at a high school graduation ceremony, according to WFSB. Anticipating the scorcher, the New Britain Fire Department set up cooling centers for people to get out of the sun and hydrate. 2,000 cups of water were distributed to the 6,000 attendees.
Those efforts were not enough, however, and 18 ambulances had to be called to the scene.
A similar scene took place at a graduation in North Bergen, N.J. Ambulances were on standby at the event, which was held outside to accommodate about 5,000 people, said Capt. Gerald Sanzari of the North Bergen Police Department.
In Howell, N.J., school officials made Wednesday the last day of the school year instead of Thursday, citing the heat. And at nearby Wall High School, people attending the graduation ceremony will be able to watch a remote broadcast inside the air-conditioned building.
Connie Vincent, a mail carrier, was already sweating as she began her rounds in a residential neighborhood in Manchester, Conn., Wednesday morning.
‘There’s nothing you can do,’ she said as she dabbed her face with wet washcloths. ‘Tomorrow’s my day off, thank God. I’ve just got to make it through today.’
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In a rare bending of the rules, the Metro in Washington, D.C., said passengers on Wednesday and Thursday would be allowed to drink water, an exception to their no-drinks policy. The National Weather Service said the temperature at Washington National Airport was 95 degrees just before 2 p.m., though it felt like 99.
But as the mercury rises across the East, other parts of the country were ravaged with rain, as floods swept through Minnesota, closing schools, universities and main roads.
In stark contrast in the Eastern states, health officials warned residents to drink water, stay out of the sun and in air conditioning, and check on their elderly neighbors and on their pets.
Cities further inland will also see temperatures surge into the 90s on Wednesday, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Burlington, Vermont.
Sweltering heat will also pummel areas further west in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, including Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Louisville, Kentucky.
After weeks of relatively mild June temperatures, Philadelphia may see the mercury soar to 97 and 99 degrees mid-week.
Across the mid-Atlantic, the Weather Channel predicted temperatures would top out at 105 degrees, when the humidity and heat index were calculated.
‘We’re very lucky that the pools opened yesterday,’ James Garrow, from the Philadephia health department said.
An area of high pressure off the East Coast, combined with a flow of warm, humid air coming from the South will heat things up, said Kristin Kline, a weather service meteorologist in Mount Holly, N.J.
Normally, the high for Philadelphia for the official start of summer is about 84 degrees, closer to Wednesday’s predicted low of 80 degrees. The city’s highs in the next couple of days could break decades-old records of 98 degrees, set in 1931, and 99, set in 1923.
‘You’re talking about almost 15 degrees above normal,’ Kline said.
The heat also will hit Boston-area residents hard. Triple digits are forecast in Boston — 101 degrees on Wednesday — followed by 99 on Thursday, the weather service said. Current record highs for these dates are 98 and 95 degrees, respectively.
New York City’s 1.1 million public school students are still in session — until June 27 — and just 64 percent of the classrooms are air-conditioned. Temperatures are expected to hit 97 in the city both days.
Students were being advised to wear light clothing and drink plenty of water, and schools have been told to limit outdoor playtime, city Education Department spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said.
Forecasts for upstate New York on Wednesday and Thursday called for temperatures to break 90 from Buffalo to the Vermont border, with highs topping out in the mid-90s in some places.
Philadelphia began a staggered schedule of opening its swimming pools, a couple of days after schools let out for the year. Nearly two dozen of the city’s 70 pools will be open by Wednesday, with another seven opening Thursday.
Garrow said Philadelphia will activate its heat hotline at noon Wednesday and will work with personal care homes, senior centers, libraries and recreation centers to make sure air conditioners are running.
Officials will be setting up 114 ‘cooling centers’ at facilities across the city, he said.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the state’s largest transit agency, is keeping a close eye on the heat as well, spokeswoman Jerri Williams said.
SEPTA, which operates trains, trolleys and buses in Philadelphia and its suburbs, planned to have extra maintenance workers to help deal with heat-related switch failures, problems with track expansion and any overhead wire issues on suburban train lines.
Every state in the Lower 48 except for North Dakota was forecast to have 90-degree weather until Saturday, according to a model by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency in charge of weather, climate and oceans.
On New York’s Long Island, Roy Gross, chief of the Suffolk County SPCA, cautioned against keeping pets in vehicles, noting temperatures can reach 120 degrees within minutes.
‘Your pet can quickly suffer brain damage or die from heatstroke when trapped in these high temperatures,’ Gross said.
In Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, women and small children took off their shoes to wade in a fountain. But the main attraction was a promotion by Nestle to give away a free ice cream cone to anyone who would do the hula hoop.
Residents in Minnesota would no doubt like a turn with the scorching weather, after they suffered hours of torrential rain on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
Six inches fell overnight in the northern part of the state, with some officials branding it the most severe flooding they had seen in decades.
Heavy rainfall and flash floods left roads under water and caused sinkholes and mudslides across Duluth and the North Shore. Universities, roads and town halls shut due to the extreme weather.
One of the hardest hit landmarks was the Lake Superior Zoo, the Duluth News Tribune reported, with keepers frantically searching for animals as the park became submerged in water.
Keepers were hunting for a missing polar bear and recovered an AWOL seal in the early hours of Wednesday.
Other parts of the country suffered with extreme weather earlier this week, with parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming battling wildfires in the dry, arid heat and swirling winds.
On Tuesday, Tropical Storm Chris formed over the Atlantic Ocean, but no posed no threat to land.
It swirled to life 560 miles south-southwest of Cape Race, Newfoundland, and reached top winds of 45 miles per hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
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