NEW YORK — 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.