July 23, 2011 in Nation/World

‘Pressure cooker’ heat gripping much of U.S.

Humidity amplifying misery; nights providing no respite
Geraldine Baum And Tina Susman Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

Vinny Graubart, 49, sprays himself with water to stay cool while he works on a construction site in Wilmington, Del., on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK – Of course New Yorkers get that the city can be unbearable when summer peaks. The defiant-chic pretend not to notice, and they stroll Fifth Avenue with ice cream cones and pack outdoor cafes on the waterfront to all hours of the night. But not this week.

Ice cream melted faster than it could be eaten. Newly paved sidewalks were sticky like a kitchen floor after an apple juice spill. And a faint fog surrounded St. Patrick’s Cathedral as blasts of cold air from inside collided with hot air on the street.

On Friday, the temperature reached 103 degrees in Central Park and with the humidity, say weather experts, it felt like 115.

New Yorkers were not the only oppressed. Up the East Coast, across the mid-Atlantic, and down to the tip the Texas, much of the nation has continued to bake for what is approaching a week. Twenty-nine states issued heat advisories Friday.

In parts of that affected area, temperatures were expected to fall back closer to normal on Sunday, if you consider the low 90s normal.

But in places like Amarillo, Texas, this stretch of heat has been relentless and will continue. Amarillo has had a record 29 consecutive days of temperatures above 100.

“Not only do you have the heat,” said Chris Vacarro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, “but there’s an exceptional humidity pushing temperatures above 100. That is very unhealthy and very deadly.”

The only solution was to stay cooled indoors, and if they could, New Yorkers did.

Bryant Park, usually crowded at lunchtime, was nearly empty. The popular Brooklyn Heights esplanade was almost abandoned but for a shirtless guy sitting on a bench in the full-on sun, apparently tanning. Day campers and joggers, tourists and toddlers, deserted their usual haunts.

A disastrous fire earlier this week caused a Harlem sewage treatment plant to spew millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the rivers that run into New York Harbor.

But Ann Grimm, 21, hadn’t heard the news and didn’t notice.

The college student from Seattle, who is interning at Lucky magazine this summer, spent several hours of her day off Friday by the Hudson River at the end of 42nd Street. With her blond hair pulled off her neck and pink T-shirt sleeves rolled above her shoulders, she read a novel on her Kindle under a tree rather than stay in her apartment with the air conditioning.

“I’m trying to save money,” said Grimm.

Did she notice an, uh, unusual stench from the river?

She sniffed and shook her head: “Nope. Isn’t that the way it always smells in New York?”

Part of what has made this heat wave remarkable – other than the unusually broad swath of the country it has broiled – is that there has been no retreat even after night falls. “So you have full sunshine during the daytime combined with the extra heating from the compressed sinking air at night, and it’s literally a pressure cooker out there,” said Vacarro.

Officials have warned particularly the elderly and vulnerable not to exert themselves and to drink a lot of water.

On Capitol Hill down in Washington, government workers, on edge from both the heat and the heated budget talks, at least were able to trade in pumps for flip-flops and douse themselves with bottled water to keep steady.

One Washington tour bus driver complained this was even hotter than home, which happens to be Ethiopia. Desta Temesgen, 27, dreads 100-degree days because customers get cranky.

“They complain, they say they want a refund … sometimes they even try to slap me,” Temesgen said.


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