Video: Extreme heat tests grit of power grid

  1. Transcript of: Extreme heat tests grit of power grid

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: In some of the American cities we're about to show you where new all-time temperature records were set today, the old records there have stood since the 1800s , some of them, until today, when temperatures in many places soared above 100. The problem is, aside from the health complications and discomfort, parts of this nation's power grid date back almost that long. And with demand this high and the massive load on the system, some are remembering all those promises we made to ourselves and heard from politicians about modernizing the power grid . It never happened, so we are left to hope, on nights like tonight, that it holds. We begin our reporting tonight with NBC 's Ron Allen here in New York . Ron , good evening.

    RON ALLEN reporting: Good evening to you, Brian . This had to be one of the hottest places in New York City . All the bright lights and concrete here in Times Square easily pushed the temperature up to 100 degrees or so. Another hot day that tested everyone's endurance and tested whether the power companies can keep the power turned on. As temperatures again soared past 100 and burned new record highs into the history books...

    Unidentified Man #1: It's really brutal.

    ALLEN: ...in a fourth floor apartment outside New York City , Linda Thomas flicks her light switches and nothing happens.

    Ms. LINDA THOMAS: No power.

    ALLEN: It's been a hot, muggy day after a sweltering, miserable night.

    Ms. THOMAS: We expect support, like some water, some ice, something to help us. We don't need to wait three days to get that.

    ALLEN: From New Hampshire to Virginia , utility crews scramble to turn fans, air conditioners and the lights back on. All of Park Ridge , New Jersey , population 9,000, lost power when a cable failed, forcing the evacuation of a nursing home. In Baltimore , about 150 seniors finally reached safety after three very uncomfortable days. It was 92 degrees in their care center. Throughout the east, the huge demand for electricity raised fears of blackouts.

    Mr. JOHN MIKSAD (Con Edison): We're approaching a record. I mean, we've been in this business 120 years. We've only been up in this territory for maybe five times in our history.

    ALLEN: Utilities are now pleading with the public to conserve, even offering price breaks if big users voluntarily cut usage by turning down lights and raising temperatures in office buildings, trying to reduce strain on the regional power grid that reached record demand in the summer of 2006 and crashed during the massive blackout of 2003 , leaving 45 million in the dark in eight states, forcing the industry to invest billions in improvements. Some industry watchers insist there's still a ways to go.

    Mr. ASHLEY BROWN (Harvard Kennedy School): We have a lot of new technology that can be deployed to allow us to manage the grid a lot more efficiently.

    ALLEN: This evening Linda Thomas and her neighbors, facing another sweltering night, certainly hope help arrives soon.

    Unidentified Man #2: Oh, yes.

    ALLEN: Overall, the number of outages remains in the tens of thousands, relatively low given that there are tens of millions of customers. But tomorrow, of course, is yet another hot, sweaty day. Brian :

    WILLIAMS: Ron Allen starting us off not far from here, in Times Square here in New York . Ron , thanks.

updated 7/7/2010 11:58:09 PM ET 2010-07-08T03:58:09

A heat wave that blistered, scorched, steamed and baked the East this week began to ease late Wednesday as ocean-cooled air began coming ashore, the National Weather Service said.

Temperatures Thursday were expected to return to near-normal levels for mid-July near the coast and remain around 90 degrees inland, but misery was expected to linger, forecasters said.  

In the New York City area, the heat index combining temperature and humidity was expected to reach 95, according to a weather service advisory in effect through noon Thursday.

A higher index, nearer 100, was forecast for upstate New York as well as eastern Kentucky and central Vermont through Thursday evening.

"A volcano — that's what it feels like to me," said Wayne Reid, mopping his brow and swigging bottled water after walking three blocks to a New York subway station Wednesday morning. He was dressed for the heat — already a sticky 90 degrees and headed into triple digits — in shorts and a tank top, but it didn't matter.

"You could run butt-naked out there and still be hot," he said.

Heat waves are more oppressive in big cities, because concrete, asphalt and steel absorb more solar energy during the day and are slow to release it after the sun goes down, offering people little relief at night.

In the nation's biggest city of them all, Wall Streeters are sweltering in business suits on subway platforms, senior citizens are schlepping to the grocery store on streets that seem like frying pans, and New Yorkers overall are handling it by doing what they do best: coping, with a little complaining thrown in.

Not that New Yorkers, on the fourth day of a record-breaking heat wave stifling much of the Eastern Seaboard, were suffering alone.

Field Notes: Stinky trash among tasks in war against heat

With triple-digit highs recorded from New York to Charlotte, N.C., roads buckled, nursing homes with air-conditioning problems were forced to evacuate, and utilities called for conservation as the electrical grid neared its capacity.

New York, where many buildings predate the age of climate control and many people don't have cars, is not for the faint of hot. The mercury hit 100 by 3 p.m. Wednesday after topping out at 103 on Tuesday.

"When I get up, I feel like I could shower all the time," Jeffrey Boone said Wednesday as he walked to a gym from his un-air-conditioned Manhattan apartment. He has a window fan, but it is not up to the task of 80-degree nights or triple-digit days.

"What can we do? We survive," said Boone, a security guard.

We also deploy umbrellas as parasols, run in sprinklers set up in parks, walk out of our way to stay on the shady side of the streets, hover by office-building doors where blasts of cooled air occasionally escape, and even appreciate the wind that signals the approach of a subway train. And wear our sweat with sangfroid.

How the grid works
Click for a look at how power is shared across the nation.

Megan Dack coolly checked her cell phone as she waited on a roasting, elevated subway platform in Brooklyn while wearing a black dress and black opaque tights. Her retail job bars bare legs, she said.

"It's not so bad for, like, 10 minutes," said Dack, who recently moved to the city from Cocoa Beach, Fla. "I'm used to the heat."

For those who aren't, city officials have designated libraries, senior citizen centers and other places as public cooling centers.

Plenty of people across the East were looking for oases of their own.

Sue Robels' plan? "My apartment isn't air-conditioned, so it's going to be museums, movies, Starbucks — anywhere else but at home today," Robels said as she headed to Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, a science museum.

And even some who escaped to the beach found themselves escaping from it, too.

  1. Cartoons
    1. How hot will it get?

      Our cartoonists take a cool look at the blazing temps.

Sharon Delano of Lancaster County, Va., spent Wednesday morning in the Carolina Beach, N.C., arcade. Cool dips in the ocean were going only so far, said her mother, Carol Davis: "With that breeze blowing, you don't know how bad you're getting burned."

Throughout the region, there were reminders of the perils the hot spell poses. Deaths blamed on it included a 92-year-old Philadelphia woman, a Baltimore resident who was found at home where the indoor temperature was over 90, and a homeless woman discovered lying next to a car in suburban Detroit.

The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., said four midshipmen who had just completed an obstacle course Wednesday needed medical attention for possible heat exhaustion. In Middletown, Conn., police charged two high school assistant football coaches with reckless endangerment after a player collapsed while running an uphill sprint Tuesday evening.

Police in Park Ridge, N.J., evacuated a nursing home and rehabilitation center after an electrical line burned out Tuesday evening. In Maryland, health officials moved all 150 residents out of a Baltimore nursing home whose operators didn't report a broken air conditioner. The state learned of the home's troubles when a resident called 911.

A radio station distributed free bottled water to day laborers on New York's Long Island, while social workers in Pittsburgh did the same for the homeless there.

Transportation officials cut the speed of commuter trains in suburban Washington and New York for fear that the heat had warped the tracks. Some New Jersey train service was canceled.

Tips for beating the heat

A 100-degree reading at noon in Trenton, N.J., broke a 17-year-old record. Philadelphia hit 100 for the second straight day, breaking a record of 98 degrees set in 1999. Newark, N.J., hit triple digits for the fourth straight day, something that hasn't happened since 1993. Raleigh, N.C., reached 101 degrees Wednesday, surpassing the previous record of 100 in 1977.

Forecasters were predicting modest relief in the coming days. The National Weather Service expects temperatures in New York to approach 90, with humidity making it feel hotter, through at least next Wednesday.

Still, Boone, the security guard, was taking the sultry summer in stride.

"Time goes so fast," he said. "Next thing you know, it's September."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Explainer: How readers are keeping their cool

  • As triple-digit temperatures scorched the East Coast, msnbc.com asked readers how they're beating the heat. Scroll down to see where people are finding relief (Spoiler alert: It's not on land), and tell us what you're doing to beat the heat here.

  • Diving in New Jersey

    Submitted by Michael Hyduk

    The water is always delightfully cool below 60 feet!

    -Michael Hyduk, East Windsor, N.J.

  • Outdoor escape in Vermont

    Submitted by Marie Cox
    Water! Quechee Gorge, Vt.

    -Marie Cox, Salem, N.H.

  • Ocean breeze in South Carolina

    Submitted by Lamort DeLioncourt
    Myrtle Beach, S.C. Air temperature: 85 degrees. Oceanfront water temperature: 78 degrees, slight breezes from the northwest at 5-7 mph. Why be anywhere else?

    -Lamort DeLioncourt, Conway, S.C.

  • Pool party in New Jersey

    Submitted by Rich Crockett
    Sky Crockett of Hamilton Twp., N.J., cooling off in his pool. Temps reached the triple digits. Photo taken by his brother Ry.

    -Rich Crockett, Hamilton Twp., N.J.

  • Boating in Maine

    Submitted by David Jones
    We spent the day on the boat and swimming to avoid the heat in Saco and Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

    -David Jones, Kennebunk, Maine

Photos: Heat Waves

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  1. Exhausted firefighters rest after fighting a major fire that engulfed a number of stores in White Plains, N.Y., on Wednesday, July 7. The fire burned out of control on a day that air temperatures soared through the nineties. Twenty firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation, heat exhaustion and heart palpitations. (Seth Harrison / The Journal News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Brittany Hunt and Dana Ferrari jump into the Farmington River in Windsor, Conn., on Wednesday as a way to beat the heat. (Jim Michaud / Journal Inquirer via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A young visitor to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., cools off in a vapor mister on the second straight day of triple digit temperatures on Wednesday. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A roofer wipes off sweat as he works on a project at Park Ridge High School in Park Ridge, N.J., early Wednesday, July 7. (Rich Schultz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. People cool off with water from an opened hydrant on Tuesday in Brooklyn. (Ramin Talaie / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Fans came in handy Tuesday as these ladies waited for a bus in New York. (Tina Fineberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. People seek relief at the Lower Falls of the Swift River in Albany, N.H., on Tuesday. (Jim Cole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The fountains at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., provided some relief on Tuesday. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Anthony Andrews and his girlfriend, Carolyn Cutillo, play in the fountain in Washington Square Park in New York on Tuesday. (Keith Bedford / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. People gather along Atlantic City Beach, N.J., on Tuesday. (Tim Donnelly / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A woman swings a child through water spraying from a fire hydrant in Brooklyn on Tuesday. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A runner splashes water on himself at a fountain in near the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (Mike Theiler / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Vince Blackson, with the charity United Planning Organization, provides water to Michael Smith, who relaxes in the shade in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (Alex Brandon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Brenda McMillian from Port Orange, Fla., cools off in a water mister at the National Zoo in Washington on Tuesday. (Charles Dharapak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A construction worker wipes his head as he takes a break while working on the Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University in Providence, R.I. on Tuesday. (Charles Krupa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Children cool off in the spray from a fire hydrant in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn borough of New York on Monday, July 5. (Piotr Redlinski / The New York Times via Redux) Back to slideshow navigation
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Map: Record heat

Click on a state to view the hottest date on record for selected cities. All data courtesy of the National Climatic Data Center.

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