updated 7/8/2010 7:18:22 AM ET 2010-07-08T11:18:22

After four days of a steamy heat wave swamped much of the Eastern Seaboard, the likelihood of just 80- or 90-degree weather was sounding downright delectable.

The National Weather Service was forecasting less brutal heat throughout the region Thursday, though it still was likely to be uncomfortably humid. The temperature was expected to dip overnight in New York but remain about 80 degrees in urban areas.

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.

On Wednesday, 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.

In the nation's biggest city, Wall Streeters sweltered in business suits on subway platforms and senior citizens schlepped to grocery stores on streets that seemed like frying pans. The mercury hit 100 degrees by 3 p.m. Wednesday after topping out at 103 on Tuesday.

Field Notes: Stinky trash among tasks in war against heat

Security guard Jeffrey Boone said he has a window fan but it's not up to the task of 80-degree nights or triple-digit days.

"When I get up, I feel like I could shower all the time," Boone said Wednesday as he walked to a gym from his un-air-conditioned Manhattan apartment.

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.

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"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.

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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.

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.

Tips for beating the heat

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.

Maryland state 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.

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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 expected temperatures in New York to approach 90, with humidity making it feel hotter, through at least July 14.

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."

Associated Press writers JoAnn Loviglio in Philadelphia, Kevin Maurer in Carolina Beach, N.C., and Frank Eltman in Farmingville, N.Y., contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Heat wave eases in the Northeast

  1. Transcript of: Heat wave eases in the Northeast

    ANN CURRY, co-host: It may be only by a few degrees, but today we should finally see some relief from the oppressive heat wave that's been shattering record highs up and down the East Coast and pushed power companies to the brink. NBC 's Ron Allen is on Wall Street this morning with more on this. Ron , good morning.

    RON ALLEN reporting: Good morning to you, Ann. Yes, this is the day that we're supposed to see some relief, but don't get too excited. That basically means temperatures are going to be closer to 90 degrees than to 100 degrees. It also means the East Coast is going to place another huge demand for electricity on power companies already under stress as we all cope with yet another hot and sweaty day. Finally we may just get a break from the intense heat making life miserable, especially for anyone who has to spend a lot of time outside.

    Unidentified Man #1: The asphalt, it's -- you know, once in a while you get a break waiting for trucks or whatnot. But other than that, it's really brutal.

    ALLEN: In Connecticut , police suspect there wasn't enough water at the high school football practice when a player collapsed and was treated for dehydration at a local hospital. Two coaches under investigation deny the allegation.

    Mr. MIKE PITRUZELLO (Middletown Athletic Director): All the kids were asked and made sure that they properly drank enough water before they went out, and their water bottles were filled when they went out.

    ALLEN: More cities burned record highs into the almanacs. Allentown hit 98, Raleigh-Durham topped that at 101; hotter still at New York 's Kennedy International Airport , 102. From New Hampshire to Virginia , utility crews scrambled to turn fans, air conditioners and the lights back on for tens of thousands without power.

    Unidentified Man #2: We literally have been sitting out here all night . Literally. It's too -- it's too hot to sleep in the house.

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

    ALLEN: In Baltimore , about 150 seniors at a nursing home finally reached safety after three days without air-conditioning. It was 92 degrees inside. A burned cable knocked out power in all of Park Ridge , New Jersey , population 9,000, for several hours. The huge demand for power, threatening to reach record levels, is raising fears of more problems. Energy companies are on high alert and pleading with the public to conserve. Mr. JOHN MIKSAD (Senior Vice President For Electronic Operations, Con Edison ): The grid is certainly stressed.

    ALLEN: The record was set during the summer of 2006 . The grid crashed during the massive blackout of 2003 . So far, analysts say, the system is handling the load. A lot of communities are also urging residents to conserve water as well as power. There's also more evidence to report of how dangerous this heat wave has been. Another fatality to report, this time a 46-year-old woman here in New York who succumbed to the heat. Authorities say her body temperature had passed 100 degrees. So hopefully there's some relief for all of us here today. Ann , back to you.

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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